ALBANY (AP) — Republican lawmakers in New York backed Senate Leader Dean Skelos on Tuesday amid a federal investigation into whether he influenced Nassau County's decision to award a $12 million contract to a company that hired his son.
Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, said he sees no reason to question Skelos' leadership and that he remains focused on the final two months of the legislative session.
"Even If you were accused, I would say, at least in this country there still is a presumption of innocence," DeFrancisco told reporters gathered outside Skelos' office. "We still believe in innocent until proven guilty, and let's get some work done."
Skelos said last week that he is cooperating with the investigation, which The New York Times — citing unidentified sources — said involves a $12 million stormwater contract given to an Arizona company in 2013, even though the firm did not submit the lowest bid.
He did not speak to reporters before the Senate convened for the first time following a two-week break. Rank-and-file Republican senators were quick to defend their leader.
"Don't you think we're being a little presumptuous?" asked Sen. Kenneth LaValle, R-Long Island.
Asked if he had received a subpoena in the case, LaValle said "That's a non-issue."
The office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has declined to comment on the investigation. A message left with the Arizona company, AbTech, was not returned Tuesday.
The probe is the latest in a series of criminal investigations of lawmakers and their relatives.
News of the investigation came three months after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, was accused of accepting nearly $4 million in payoffs. Silver gave up his leadership post but is keeping his legislative seat as he fights the charges. Earlier this month, Silver's son-in-law was charged in a $7 million Ponzi scheme.
Another top Senate leader, Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton, has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge that he lied to the FBI about using his clout to arrange a job for his son, who was convicted earlier this year of filing false income tax returns.