Very little prior to Tuesday’s indictment suggests Republican Councilman Dan Halloran and Democratic State Senator Malcolm Smith shared much of a connection other than Queens, the borough they both called home.
But that the two would somehow have found use for each other, and, more importantly, allegedly colluded to help Smith bribe his way into the good graces of the Queens and Bronx County Republican powerbrokers strikes observers as bizarre.
“I thought it was an April Fool’s joke when I first read, it's so far and out there" said one Queens political operative. “Talk about the odd couple.”
In conversations with political observers and operatives in Queens who know both Smith and Halloran, Smith’s alleged role came as no surprise. In the indictment itself, Smith is described as the scheme’s leader who “drew up the game plan” that Halloran “quarterbacked.”
But to some Halloran’s alleged role seemed out of character for an elected official who regularly campaigned as an outsider.
“My first reaction this morning was that I was shocked,” said City Councilman Eric Ulrich, a Republican. He and Halloran are the only two Republican elected officials in Queens.
“I would never in a million years think that he would get caught up in something so blatantly—just something so troublesome and disturbing. I was shocked. And I’m still shocked.”
Halloran is a Republican who often operated on the edge of Queens GOP circles. His political showmanship and religious beliefs (he practices Nordic-based form of paganism) have often been the reason his name is in headlines. Last year, his poorly financed bid for Congress ended when he was beaten by a 2-to-1 margin on Election Day.
Smith, the former head of the state Senate Democrats, has been no stranger to controversy. From his alleged role in the Aqueduct racetrack scandal to his break from the Democratic fold to join the power-sharing arrangement that has kept the Republicans at least partially in control of the Senate, Smith is known in political circles for his political opportunism.
It’s not surprising, then, that Smith and Halloran’s public paths don’t appear to cross.
But according to the indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Smith and Halloran worked together in an elaborate corruption scheme to help further their personal and joint political goals.
This isn’t to say either had escaped the attention of federal authorities.
Smith, in particular, has long been the target of investigations by the feds. He and other Queens officials were accused of inappropriately trying to help Aqueduct Entertainment Group secure the multi-billion dollar contract to operate the Aqueduct Racetrack racino.
Smith denies any wrongdoing, despite a New York Inspector General’s reporting from 2010 that indicated he may have acted unethically and illegally. The winning bid ultimately went to international casino operators Genting.
Even more recently, Smith has been connected to a non-profit charity that at the time employed current and former staff members of the senator. The charity was reportedly doing relief work for Hurricane Katrina. More than $100,000 in state funds was steered to the organization co-founded by Smith.
Halloran has also faced federal scrutiny. He claimed sanitation workers had approached him after the infamous blizzard of 2010 to confess that they had been part of an orchestrated work slowdown.
Federal prosecutors got involved, and two of the sanitation supervisors would not corroborate Halloran’s story. The councilman refused to give up the names of the other workers, leading some to question what, if any, of Halloran’s accusations were true.
Gerald Shargel, a lawyer for Smith, said in a statement that his client is a “dedicated and highly respected public servant and he steadfastly denies these charges.”