We have all become accustomed to gasping when we turn on the news, but for me these past few weeks have been particularly surprising. On Tuesday, I turned on the radio to hear breaking news that corruption charges against Dean Skelos were being overturned.
Dean Skelos was the Republican Senate majority leader and one of the most powerful men in Albany for many years. He was one of the "three amigos" or "three men in a room" along with Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Democratic Assembly leader Sheldon Silver.
Together, they made most of the major decisions about what would happen in our state's political system. Both Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos were investigated by former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara in 2015, and were both found guilty of corruption.
According to an article in Politico, "Skelos was convicted in November 2015 on eight corruption counts of using his office to pressure and threaten businesses with business before the state to ensure his son, Adam, was given employment.
“The pair were convicted of extortion, wire fraud, solicitation of bribes and gratuities and honest services fraud after three separate companies were forced by threats against their interests before local and state governments to provide Adam with work, much of which he failed to do."
Taking a step back to look at these four over the last few years is really a wild demonstration of how our state government is largely an insider game where favors and privileges are traded and protected by a small group of powerful men.
Reformers step in to attempt to fix this system and when they succeed, it seems to never last very long.
Bharara worked extremely hard to investigate both Skelos and Silver. He also convicted Silver of corruption, and that charge was overturned two months ago.
The explanation for that corruption charge from the New York Times was that, "Mr. Silver was convicted on charges that he had obtained nearly $4 million in illicit payments in return for taking a series of official actions that benefited others."
So essentially, at least two of the three most powerful men evidently were using our government to benefit themselves and their friends and family in enormous ways.
But then Bharara was fired by President Donald Trump, whom he was also investigating for corruption, and now our courts are overturning these cases based on a Supreme Court determination that happened only last year.
The argument is not that these men are not guilty, but that the argument against them was too broad.
I would be lying if I said I really understood how each of these judges who are overturning these cases ended up in their positions, but I do know that many judges are politically appointed or they are chosen in elections where our choices are predetermined by political club kingpins.
It is not inaccurate to say that judges are largely chosen through a political lens, though we hope they are more influenced by ethics and the law than their political advantage.
How can I be anything but frustrated that these corrupt politicians are free after not even a full year? Our state has long struggled with corruption.
According to a University of Missouri study, "New York is first for the (30) public corruption cases, followed by Pennsylvania, where 24 cases have been filed over the past decade. New Jersey ranks third with 12 corruption cases. Look further back, and New York State has topped the list since at least 1986."
Between 2005-2015 over 30 lawmakers in Albany were at least accused of wrongdoing, and many were convicted.
But it seems our court system is more concerned with freeing these powerful men than wrongfully incarcerated ones.
In New York, money and power top justice time and again.