Smullen settles felony tax case as violation

Assemblyman's attorney lashes out against 'political opponents'
Robert Smullen is pictured in his home last June.
Robert Smullen is pictured in his home last June.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Schenectady County

NISKAYUNA — The criminal case of a state lawmaker accused of felony property tax fraud has been settled.

Assemblyman Robert Smullen, R-Meco, pleaded guilty to a violation on Wednesday in satisfaction of the far more serious original charges.

Smullen was arrested last July and charged with offering a false instrument for filing, a felony, after accepting a tax reduction on two different residences at the same time. State law only allowed for one reduction.

The prosecutor in the case, Assistant Schenectady County District Attorney Pete Willis, said the reduced charge was offered to Smullen because he’d paid back the town of Niskayuna for lost property tax and the fact that Smullen was a first-time offender with no criminal history.

“That was one of the big reasons,” he said.

The retired Marine Corps colonel was accused of applying for and receiving a primary-residence-only combat veterans tax exemption on two properties simultaneously: One in the town of Johnstown in Fulton County, and another in Niskayuna in Schenectady County, where his wife and children lived during the school year.

Smullen had maintained that filing for the two exemptions was a mistake and paid back the money, which amounted to about $4,437.

“I remain committed fighting for the issues that I campaigned on,” Smullen said in a statement to announce the case’s disposition. “There is no greater honor than to represent our people in Albany, which is what I was sent there to do.”

Defense attorney Steven Kouray said he believed the state’s case remains “factually questionable” but still he advised his client to plead guilty to the violation in order to avoid an expensive trial.

Smullen, a Republican, was elected to the 118th Assembly District seat last November, winning a decisive victory over Keith Rubino, a Democrat, to replace retiring Assemblyman Marc Butler. He previously defeated Patrick Vincent in the GOP primary.

The first-term state lawmaker, Kouray said, “was needlessly dragged through the mud by his political opponents using our system of law.”

“Ending this quickly is better than taking an unknown chance under our current existing system,” he said.

Megan Smullen sharply criticized the District Attorney’s Office, contending she was compelled to testify against her husband during the grand jury process to “try and further hurt my family.”

“And then the assistant district attorney tried to twist my arm by telling me to convince my husband to plead guilty to a misdemeanor,” she said in a statement. “I am not sure if this is illegal or not, but it is highly questionable if not unethical.”

She said she would call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign into law the Commission on Prosecutorial Misconduct “once all the lawsuits against it are finished, so people can defend themselves.” 

Willis said the District Attorney’s Office does not comment on grand jury proceedings.

Smullen’s pistol permits were suspended following the felony charges, and he said his future right to own firearms remains an open question.

Mike Rose, his campaign manager, said the charges were the result of an “orchestrated smear campaign,” but didn’t specify on behalf of which rival campaign.

Johnstown Town Board members Don Vanduesen and Timothy Rizzo had previously called for Smullen to be investigated.

Vanduesen declined comment on Friday.

Rizzo said, “I never saw it as a political issue.”

He added: “It opened Pandora’s Box and it gave insight into the proper assessment rebates.”

“Unfortunately, this type of dirty politics is exactly what New Yorkers have come to expect,” Rose said. “The ‘say anything, do anything’ attitude to get elected is sad. These are hate-filled people who are probably beyond redemption.”

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