ALBANY - Former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos may have been "unwise" to ask people with business before the state to employ his son -- but that doesn't make it illegal, his attorneys argue.
In a court brief late Friday, Skelos' lawyers laid out the legal rationale for his appeal of a December conviction on corruption charges, which found he illegally used his influence as a state power broker to enrich his adult son.
A Nassau County Republican, Skelos is appealing based on a Supreme Court decision in June that narrowed the law he was convicted of breaking.
"It may have been unwise for Skelos to ask people with significant interests in state public policy to help his son find work, or to contact other officials concerning his son’s employer, but it was not a federal crime," Skelos attorney Alexandra Shapiro wrote.
Skelos and his son, Adam, were convicted on eight counts of bribery, extortion and fraud. Both are appealing.
The former lawmaker was sentenced in May to a five-year prison sentence, but remains free pending his appeal.
His appeal brief relies heavily on the Supreme Court's June decision overturning former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell's corruption conviction, finding prosecutors must prove a public official must take a formal government action -- rather than just set up a meeting -- to be found guilty of a quid pro quo.
Skelos' conviction largely centered on a pair of jobs he got for his son: one with an environmental firm with heavy ties to a major New York City real-estate developer, the other with a medical malpractice insurance company.
Both companies had business before state or local government.
But Skelos' attorneys argue he never explicitly exchanged a vote or action in exchange for his son's employment.
"If Skelos’s convictions can stand on these facts, then virtually any scenario in which a state or local official’s relative receives a benefit from someone with interests in government affairs could be subject to criminal prosecution, regardless of whether there was a quid pro quo," Skelos' legal team wrote.
At a panel discussion in Albany last week, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara expressed confidence in the strength of the case against Skelos, even in the wake of the McDonnell decision.
Bharara's office led the prosecution of Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who was separately convicted in November.
Silver, too, is basing his appeal on the McDonnell decision.
"We think beyond question the kinds of things that we allege and prove in both of those cases … are squarely within what the McDonnell decision said was still a violation," Bharara said.