Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bronx GOP boss who took bribe in Malcolm Smith case has long list of corruption

Joseph (Jay) Savino, the chairman of the Bronx County Republican Committee, took a $15,000 bribe in a plot to get state Sen. Malcolm Smith on the ballot for New York City mayor. He also doesn't live in the Bronx, was subpoenaed in connection with a federal probe into bidding on voting machines and has dined out on Bronx GOP funds.

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Bronx Party Chairman Joseph Savino poses with piles of cash.

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Bronx Party Chairman Joseph Savino poses with piles of cash.

The Bronx Republican Party boss accused of taking a $15,000 bribe in a plot involving mayoral wanna-be state Sen. Malcolm Smith is a sketchy political operator and a carpetbagger who doesn’t even live in the borough.
Joseph (Jay) Savino, the chairman of the Bronx County Republican Committee, maintains a Bronx voting address but is listed in the federal complaint unsealed Tuesday as living in Rockland County.
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His arrest in the Rockland town of Congers on corruption charges could mark the end of a dubious political career.
The 45-year-old lawyer saw his father, a former Republican city councilman from the Bronx, sent to prison in 1985 for tax evasion and for illegally possessing a machine gun and three pistols with silencers.
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Savino himself was a top aide under GOP state Sen. Guy Velella when, in 2004, the longtime Bronx power broker pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for state contracts and housing subsidies. Savino took over the Bronx GOP when Velella went to jail.
It wasn’t much of a prize. The borough is one of the most heavily Democratic counties in the nation: 91% of voters backed President Obama in 2012. But every few years, particularly during mayoral elections, GOP bosses can dictate who gets on the ballot, forcing candidates like Smith to woo them however they can.
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When Savino, a Morris Park-raised attorney, took over the Bronx GOP, he promised to reform the notoriously corrupt organization. But as early as 2007, Savino and two Bronx GOP associates, Dawn Sandow and Frank Tosi, were reportedly under investigation in connection with their work at the city Board of Elections.
In 2010, Savino and others were subpoenaed in connection with a federal probe into bidding on voting machines. And more recently, Savino and his cronies have dined out on Bronx GOP funds, spending hundreds of dollars on dinners at restaurants from White Plains to SoHo.
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A Bronx political source described Savino, who is married with four children, as a “fratty” character who rarely attends community meetings. “I don’t think he has the intellect to pull off a real plot,” the source said.
But Savino, an Iona Preparatory School and Iona College graduate, was quite clear about what he wanted from Smith, according to the corruption complaint: $25,000 in an envelope in exchange for his support.
“Everyone has to pay their mortgage,” Savino said, according to the complaint.
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The party boss ended up allegedly taking just $15,000 in cash from an undercover agent on Feb. 14, $10,000 less than Queens GOP boss Vincent Tabone.
Not that Savino actually supported Smith. Having backed former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion for weeks, Savino switched camps on Feb. 20 — less than a week after the alleged $15,000 payment — and endorsed ex-MTA chairman Joe Lhota for mayor.
His takedown came as a shock to at least one close associate, J.C. Polanco has represented the Bronx GOP on the Board of Elections.
“This is not the guy we know,” Polanco told the Daily News Wednesday. “We would have never suspected anything like this. That’s not his character.”
But Savino has long been hungry for power and attention. In 2009, he complained that Mayor Bloomberg snubbed him at a Bronx parade even as Hizzoner was seeking the GOP line for his reelection. “He and his entourage almost ran me over,” he said at the time. “The mayor never even said hello.”
Savino and his lawyer didn’t respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
With Ginger Adams Otis
ckatz@nydailynews.com and dbeekman@nydailynews.com
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