Yiddish tapes derail trial of N.Y. State Sen. Malcolm Smith

Uriel Heilman

NEW YORK (JTA) — A New York State legislator’s trial on wire fraud and bribery charges was derailed in part by some 28 hours of wiretapped phone conversations in Yiddish.

A mistrial was declared Tuesday in the case of state Sen. Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, and one co-defendant.

U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Karas said prosecutors had failed to provide the defense with 70 hours of wiretapped conversations, some 28 of them in Yiddish. Translation and interpretation work would have required the jurors to serve longer than some were able, the judge said, declaring a mistrial.

The decision followed a week-and-a-half of testimony that included tails of cash-stuffed envelopes, strip club visits and an undercover sting operation, according to The New York Times. A new trial was scheduled for early January, two months after Smith is up for re-election.

Smith stands accused of conspiring to pay more than $80,000 in bribes to a former city councilman from Queens and three Republican county leaders so Smith could run for mayor of New York City on the Republican Party line in 2013.

The contretemps over the wiretaps came after the disclosure that authorities had taped conversations between Moses Stern, the key government informer, and Jewish activist Joseph Frager. Frager is the longtime head of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, an organization that aims to create Jewish majority in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

That disclosure led to a request by the defense for taped conversations between Stern and Rabbi Zalman Beck of Queens, which included the mostly Yiddish back-and-forth. Prosecutors argued — unsuccessfully — that the tapes were largely irrelevant.