There are two phrases that Charles C. Dorego’s friends and colleagues use to describe him: “very smart” and “very charming.”
That is why colleagues in the real estate industry are wondering how he finds himself at the center of a corruption scandal that has toppled two of the most powerful politicians in the state: Sheldon Silver, the former Democratic speaker of the State Assembly and Dean G. Skelos, the former Republican majority leader in the State Senate.
Mr. Dorego, the general counsel for one of Manhattan’s biggest developers, Glenwood Management, is an influential figure in real estate circles whose warm smile and easygoing demeanor could disarm even those with whom he disagreed in an industry famous for its bitter rivalries.
But Mr. Dorego also likes to let associates know about the political access he enjoyed to the governor, the mayor and top lawmakers that came from being a major developer who dispensed millions of dollars in political contributions on behalf of Glenwood and its owner, Leonard Litwin.
“Charlie likes access,” said one executive who worked with Mr. Dorego at the Real Estate Board of New York. “He likes to talk about access to politicians.”
Lawyers at Mr. Dorego’s former law firm and several real estate executives all spoke admiringly of Mr. Dorego but declined to be identified for fear of being dragged into the matter.
Mr. Dorego hired an army of lobbyists that eclipsed the contingents from either of real estate’s two most powerful trade groups — the Real Estate Board and the Rent Stabilization Association — ensuring he had the ear of state officials who oversee important housing rules, including a lucrative tax abatement program set to expire next month.
The fate of the housing program, known as 421-a, is critical to Glenwood. The company owns nine Manhattan apartment buildings with a total of nearly 3,000 apartments that receive 421-a tax breaks worth more than $700 million over 20 years. The newest building, Hawthorn Park, overlooks Lincoln Center and features two-bedroom apartments renting for $7,400 a month.
Mr. Dorego, who friends say once considered leaving the law to manage a minor-league baseball team, figures prominently in the federal criminal complaints against Mr. Silver and Mr. Skelos, that involve payoffs, graft, fraud and solicitation of bribes.
In exchange for a non-prosecution agreement, Mr. Dorego in April began cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and prosecutors in the office of the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.
Mr. Dorego, whose lawyer did not return calls, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He is not identified by name in the criminal complaints, but is referred to as CW-1, or cooperating witness, in the complaint against Mr. Skelos and his son, and as “a representative of Developer-1” — which is Glenwood — in the charges against Mr. Silver.
Prosecutors have declined to release a copy of the non-prosecution agreement, which could illuminate which crimes, if any, Mr. Dorego may have committed; why the government chose not to charge him; and how and what he knows about potentially illegal acts by Mr. Silver, Mr. Skelos or others.
Mr. Dorego has had cancer, which friends say returned last fall. It is unclear if that may have affected his decisions in the investigation.