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Malcolm Smith Corruption Trial Set To Begin Amid State Senator's Re-Election Bid

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The corruption scandal that rocked the 2013 New York City mayoral race is set to go to trial this week.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith is accused of trying to bribe his way onto the ballot. He says he didn't do it -- and if he did, he was lured into it by federal agents.

Smith's trial begins in White Plains this week in the midst of his re-election campaign in Queens.

His co-defendants are former City Councilman Daniel Halloran, who wants to use an insanity defense, and Vincent Tabone, who was vice chairman of the Queens Republican Party.

Smith, a Democrat, is accused of scheming to bribe the city's Republican leaders for their approval to run as the GOP candidate in last year's mayoral race. He needed three of the five county leaders to sign off.

Prosecutors said more than $100,000 changed hands. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has said the case illustrates a "culture of corruption" in New York politics.

Prosecutors say they have a recording of Halloran saying: "That's politics. It's all about how much. Not about whether or will. It's about how much. And that's our politicians in New York. They're all like that.''

Halloran is accused of helping to arrange and negotiate the bribes. Prosecutors say Tabone accepted a bribe.

"Smith drew up the game plan, and Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes," Bharara said when the charges were unveiled.

The three defendants have pleaded not guilty. Each faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Court papers have made clear that much of the evidence at the trial will come from about 30 recordings made by an undercover FBI agent known as "Raj" and a cooperating witness. The witness has been identified as Moses "Mark" Stern, a Rockland County real estate developer. Prosecutors acknowledge that Stern pleaded guilty last year to unspecified federal charges, hoping to win leniency at sentencing.

It's unclear if Stern will testify. Undercover agents will testify using aliases, and any exhibits that show their faces will be sealed, the judge ruled Friday.

Smith's attorney, Gerald Shargel, said last week that Smith will claim entrapment while denying he authorized bribes.

"For nearly a year, an aggressive FBI agent teamed up with a self-confessed fraudster --- in an effort to entrap the senator in a criminal plot, a plot the senator never joined," Shargel said.

Smith faces several opponents in a Democratic primary and had sought to delay the trial until after his campaign, but Judge Kenneth Karas refused.

Halloran's lawyer, Vinoo Varghese, said last week that he had just learned that Halloran underwent surgery for a brain tumor in 2012. He asked the judge to let him pursue an insanity defense as a result, despite the late notice. Karas expressed skepticism but told the lawyer he could try to convince him in writing.

Outside the courtroom, Varghese would not say how the surgery had affected Halloran.

Two other politicians who were arrested with Smith have pleaded guilty: Bronx Republican leader Joseph Savino, who may testify, and Joseph Desmaret, former deputy mayor of Spring Valley. A sixth defendant, former Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin, is being tried separately.

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