New York Senator Tom Libous Charged With Lying To The Fbi

07.02.14 | Sarah Harnisch

One of the state Senate’s most powerful members lied to investigators in an attempt to cover up a scheme to get his son a job and drive business to a politically connected law firm, federal prosecutors alleged Tuesday.

Senate Deputy Republican Leader Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton, was charged with one count of making false statements to the FBI in an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

Libous, 61, is accused of repeatedly lying to FBI special agents in June 2010, when he was interviewed as part of an investigation into his efforts to get his son, Matthew, a job with a prominent Westchester County attorney’s office.

Matthew Libous, 36, was also charged Tuesday with impeding the IRS and filing false tax returns. Both pleaded not guilty Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in White Plains, Westchester County.

“I’m innocent from any of these charges,” Thomas Libous said outside the court. “It’s the kind of thing that’s very disappointing and we’re going to fight this.”

The elder Libous, a major GOP power broker in the Southern Tier and one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s closest Republican allies in the state Legislature, was first elected to the Senate in 1988.

According to the indictment, Thomas Libous has been under investigation since March 2010 for his alleged role in obtaining the job for his son. The firm is not named in the indictment, but now-disbarred attorney Anthony Mangone testified in 2012 that Libous had pressured his firm to hire Libous’ son.

Later, Mangone said, Libous arranged for a lobbying group to provide funding to give Matthew Libous a $50,000 raise. Mangone’s testimony came during the corruption trial of former Yonkers Councilwoman Sandy Annabi and her political mentor, Zehy Jereis.

FBI agents interviewed the elder Libous on June 24, 2010 -- two years prior to Mangone’s testimony. Prosecutors say he lied seven times by saying he didn’t remember how his son was hired, denying a personal relationship with the law firm or lobbying firm and saying he never promised to refer work to the law firm, among other claims.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who oversees the Southern District of New York, said Libous “took advantage of his position as a senator” to cause lobbyists to “funnel money through a law firm to his son.”

“He then tried to cover up his corrupt conduct by lying to FBI Agents about his knowledge of his son’s arrangement with the firm,” Bharara said in a statement.

Like the law firm, the lobbying group isn’t named in the indictment. But in his 2012 testimony, Mangone referred to “Hiffa” -- a reference to an Albany-based firm then known as Ostroff, Hiffa and Associates. Fred Hiffa, a longtime friend of Libous’, has since left the firm.

Hiffa did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.

Libous became the 37th state lawmaker to face ethical or legal charges since 2000. Four members of the state Assembly have resigned or been forced out this year alone, while three state senators are currently under indictment.

Matthew Libous, meanwhile, is accused of accepting payments directly from clients while working for the law firm and not claiming the added income on his tax returns.

He is also accused of using his own Westchester-based company -- Wireless Construction Solutions -- to fund personal expenses, such as trips to a casino, purchases on iTunes and a membership to a dating website. He owned a minority stake in the company, but oversaw its operations, according to the indictment.

All told, Matthew Libous failed to report $282,000 of income and personal expenses on his and his company’s tax returns between 2007 and 2011, prosecutors alleged.

Matthew’s lawyer, John Meringolo, would not discuss the charges Tuesday, saying only that his client will fight them and that Matthew Libous is “an attorney in good standing for 10 years without any complaints against him.”

His part-ownership of Wireless Construction Solutions was separate from his law practice, Meringolo said.

Both father and son appeared separately before U.S. Magistrate Lisa Margaret Smith. They each posted $50,000 bail, with Thomas Libous’ bond co-signed by his wife, Frances, who is vice chair of the state’s Worker’s Compensation Board.

In the courtroom, the veteran senator said he is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. Libous first revealed his prostate cancer in 2009, and last year said the disease had spread to his lungs.

“There is no cure for me, I can only maintain treatment,” he said in court Tuesday.

On the Senate floor in late June, Libous said he gets treatment every 21 days. As the legislative session was ending June 20, Libous received a standing ovation from his colleagues in tribute to him keeping up with his work as he battles cancer.

Libous has been a key legislative ally to Cuomo, a Democrat, since the governor first took office in 2011.

In 2012, Libous actively touted his friendly relationship with Cuomo in a series of advertisements and mailings for his re-election campaign. Last June, Cuomo traveled to the village of Deposit, Broome County, to attend Matthew Libous’ wedding reception.

At a news conference at Binghamton University last week touting the state’s new anti-heroin laws, Cuomo called Libous “one of the really special human beings in the New York State Legislature.”

“He is one of the natural leaders for the entire legislative body -- Democrats and Republicans, both houses,” Cuomo said of Libous. “He’s been a great mentor and a great friend to me.”

Cuomo’s office declined comment Tuesday.

The senator has faced questions concerning his son’s job since 2012, when then-Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan, a political rival, filed a state ethics complaint against Libous after Mangone delivered his testimony.

Libous strenuously denied the allegations at the time, holding a news conference in March 2012 in which he maintained his innocence and questioned Mangone’s character, noting the former attorney had admitted to lying under oath a decade prior.

“There was no quid pro quo arrangement with the law firm,” Libous said then. “I made no promises and nothing transpired between me or my office and the firm. Nor did I ask that the member of my family be hired or be paid a particular amount. Absolutely nothing wrong occurred here.”

The FBI’s investigation, however, predated the testimony and ethics complaint by more than two years.

“If, at the end of the day, he’s done something wrong and has gone against the public trust he should pay the consequences,” Ryan said Tuesday.

The senator said he’s going to fight the charge, and a spokesman said Libous would run for another two-year term. Libous, like all state lawmakers, is up for re-election this November.

“I’ve spent the last 26 years working very hard for the people of the Southern Tier and I’m going to continue to do that,” Libous said Tuesday. “I’m very proud of my record and I’m not going to let this hold me back at all.”