Diario Judío México - WHITE PLAINS — In an odd twist in a courtroom saga dense with allegations of political corruption, the fate of State Senator Malcolm A. Smith and two other defendants may be put on hold because, of all things, Yiddish.

The United States attorney’s office failed until the trial was well underway to turn over to defense lawyers recordings of 9,000 conversations, almost 300 in Yiddish, in phone calls made or received by Moses Stern, a Rockland County developer who became a government informer to try to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. On Thursday morning, before the jury was called in, defense lawyers, including Gerald L. Shargel, Mr. Smith’s lawyer, complained for an hour. (A Yiddish speaker might say they kvetched.)

Federal prosecutors argued that the conversations were irrelevant and “remote” from the crimes of bribery and wire fraud that the defendants are charged with. But the defense lawyers seemed to convince Judge Kenneth M. Karas of Federal District Court that the recordings might contain exculpatory chatter to bolster the defendants’ claims that they were entrapped by Mr. Stern and an undercover agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Since it could take weeks to translate the material — none of the lawyers or defendants speak Yiddish much beyond such Americanisms as mensch and chutzpah, and there are few court-certified Yiddish translators — the judge said he might have to consider adjourning the case or declaring a mistrial and impaneling a new jury.

“The lawyers,” he said, “are working around the clock as it is, and now you’re adding a pretty substantial review of the recordings.”

The judge postponed his decision until at least Friday to give prosecutors a chance to show him how the recordings might be expeditiously translated so the case could proceed with the same jury.

He then called the jurors into the courtroom. They viewed grainy videotapes of the F.B.I. agent, handing over an envelope filled with $25,000 in hundred-dollar bills to Vincent Tabone, then the vice chairman of the Queens County Republican Committee, and an envelope of $15,000 to Joseph J. Savino, the Bronx Republican chairman, in an Audi S.U.V. parked outside Sparks Steak House in Midtown Manhattan. The three had been schmoozing at the restaurant on Valentine’s Day 2013, which had prompted one defense lawyer, Leo Ahern, to call the bribery event “the Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

Mr. Smith, a Democrat who was for a time the State Senate majority leader, is charged with being the linchpin in a conspiracy to bribe Mr. Tabone and Mr. Savino so he could get their authorization to run for mayor as a Republican in 2013. Mr. Savino has pleaded guilty to bribery. Mr. Tabone contends that the payment he received was a legal retainer and, moreover, that he was entrapped into taking it. The third defendant is Daniel J. Halloran III, who at the time was a city councilman from Queens, and who served as a go-between in discussions with the Republicans.

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They also saw Mr. Smith listen as the F.B.I. agent, Anil Modi, described the payments he had made in exchange for the Republican authorizations.

“They got a 100,000 dollar reasons to come out and say, “Hey, here we go,’  ” Mr. Modi told Mr. Smith in a meeting on March 21 in Mr. Smith’s legislative office in Albany.

“Right, right,” Mr. Smith replied. “You gave it to them already.”

“I gave them like we discussed, half,” Mr. Modi said.

“Oh I got you, I got you,” Mr. Smith replied.

“They got to come through,” Mr. Modi said.

“Right, right, right, right,” Mr. Smith replied.
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Recent Comments

Lee Fischman
43 minutes ago
Well, at least we get to pay a Yiddish translator and in the process, provide a little more support for this great language.

Walter Lipman
43 minutes ago
Clearly, this is the last act of a desperate man. I’ll bet good money that far from these recordings being exculpatory, they’ll probably dig…

David Lockmiller
43 minutes ago
The government prosecutors in this case probably have never heard of the constitutional requirement that as government prosecutors that they…
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Mr. Modi became more specific, telling Mr. Smith that he had given the money in cash so one of the recipients could take a vacation, another pay his child’s tuition at Stanford University and a third pay off a mortgage.

“And of course then they’re all going to want positions with you and stuff,” Mr. Modi said, alluding to earlier conversations in which the county leaders and Mr. Halloran were asking Mr. Smith for Republican appointments as judges and commissioners should Mr. Smith be elected mayor.

“Yeah, oh, sure, yeah,” Mr. Smith replied.

Mr. Smith even assured Mr. Modi and Mr. Stern, who was also there, that it was unlikely the county leaders would renege on the deal.

“Then you’re looking over your shoulder all the rest of your life,” he said of the recipients of the payments.
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What if the leaders tried to shake them down for more money, Mr. Modi asked.

“I’d say, ‘absolutely not,’  ” Mr. Smith replied. “I’d say, ‘I’m not giving you a freaking dime.’ I’d say, ‘If I even give you a nickel more, you’d have to stand on the Empire State Building, and drop every person you endorsed, and hold Malcolm up and say he’s the best thing since sliced bread. Matter of fact, he’s better than sliced bread.’  ”

The participants in the conversations had grown so comfortable with one another that Mr.Tabone was willing to joke at the dinner at Sparks that the difference between an honest politician and a dishonest one was “the honest politician stays bought.” A moment later, he made sure to tell Mr. Stern: “I always took tremendous offense at that particular anecdote.”

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