- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) - A former Republican leader who was a defendant in a political corruption case approached an ailing witness and urged him not to testify, prosecutors allege.

A witness-tampering charge has been added to the indictment against Vincent Tabone, whose retrial began Monday with jury selection. He and former state Sen. Malcolm Smith are accused of scheming to bribe Republican leaders so Smith, a Democrat, could run for New York City mayor on the GOP line. They have pleaded not guilty.

Their first trial ended in a mistrial caused in part by the prosecution’s late release of recordings involving a government informant.

The latest indictment says that on May 23, a few days before the first trial began, prosecutors planned to take a deposition from Queens Republican Chairman Philip Ragusa, who was in failing health, at Ragusa’s home.

It says Tabone, who was Ragusa’s deputy, went to the home before prosecutors arrived and urged Ragusa not to testify.

Ragusa died a month later. It’s not clear from the indictment if he ever testified. Tabone pleaded not guilty to the new charge.

At the time of the first trial, Smith was a state senator seeking re-election. But he lost the primary after the mistrial and his 14 years in office ended Wednesday.

Smith’s attorney, Gerald Shargel, said in court that he would allege entrapment, as he did in the first trial. Outside the courtroom, he said the defense would benefit from the “deep look” it got at the prosecutors’ case before the mistrial was declared.

A third defendant, former New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran, refused the mistrial and was convicted of bribery charges in July.

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

As jury selection began Monday, potential jurors were asked scores of questions including whether they understand Yiddish. Some of the prosecution evidence is taped conversations in Yiddish.

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