ALBANY -- Former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' felony fraud conviction and five-year prison sentence were overturned Tuesday by a federal appeals court, though prosecutors said they will seek a second trial.
A three-judge panel from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of Skelos, R-Nassau County, and his adult son, Adam, tossing out their convictions but leaving the door open for the pair to be re-tried.
The decision Tuesday found the instructions given to the jury in the 2015 case did not line up with a 2016 Supreme Court decision, which effectively narrowed the law Skelos and his son were convicted of breaking.
Dean and Adam Skelos were originally found guilty on extortion, bribery and fraud charges, with a jury finding the elder Skelos used his influence to steer work to his son and the companies that employed him.
"Because we cannot conclude that the charging error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we are obliged to vacate the convictions," the judges wrote.
It was widely expected: A similar conviction against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, was vacated earlier this year. A new trial for Silver is scheduled for 2018.
Both the Skelos and Silver appeal decisions were based on a 2016 Supreme Court decision involving former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, a Republican who was convicted of corruption-related charges.
The Supreme Court overturned McDonnell's conviction, finding that an official must do more than just set up a meeting in order to take an "official act" that would make them guilty of accepting bribes or extorting someone.
The McDonnell decision came after Skelos and Silver's original convictions, which were overturned because the jury instructions no longer lined up with the post-McDonnell definition of "official act."
The decision Tuesday was handed down by Circuit Judges Ralph Winter and Reena Raggi, as well as District Judge Alvin Hellerstein.
The appeals court's decision Tuesday explicitly allows prosecutors to seek a new trial against Skelos, just as they did against Silver.
Prosecutors plan to re-try both cases.
"While we are disappointed in the decision and will weigh our appellate options, we look forward to a prompt retrial where we will have another opportunity to present the overwhelming evidence of Dean Skelos and Adam Skelos’s guilt and again give the public the justice it deserves," Joon Kim, acting U.S. Attorney for New York's Southern District, said in a statement.
Skelos was the Senate's Republican leader from 2008 to 2015, holding the powerful role of majority leader for much of that time. He was first elected a senator in 1984.
He stepped down as majority leader after he was charged and was ousted from office entirely upon his December 2015 conviction.
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