Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seminerio Charged in Corruption Scheme

By Conor Greene

Longtime state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio was charged by federal prosecutors with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from groups doing business with the state, including executives from a local hospital.

The charges center on Seminerio’s consulting firm Marc Consultants, which he has run from his Ozone Park home since 2000. The charges were expected to be formally announced by U.S Attorney for the Southern District Michael Garcia and FBI Agent Mark Mershon at a press conference Wednesday.

Seminerio, a Democrat from Richmond Hill who has served on the assembly for three decades, was arrested that afternoon.

Authorities allege that more than $500,000 in consulting fees paid to Seminerio, 73, were actually payoffs made in exchange for political favors. He was able to prevent the scheme from coming to light sooner due to a state law not requiring him to reveal the names of his clients.

A witness cooperating with the federal investigation, reported to be disgraced former Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, recorded conversations with Seminerio during which the politician said he was tired of doing “favors” for people who were “making thousands” of dollars. “Screw you, from now on, you know, I’m a consultant,” he said to the cooperating witness. He added that he would lose “sixty percent” of his consulting business if he were to leave the assembly.

Among the groups doing business with Seminerio was a hospital “whose funding was substantially affected” by the state’s budget. “The intercepted communications... demonstrated that on numerous occasions Seminerio took action... to benefit the hospital at the time he was receiving payments from the hospital,” wrote FBI Special Agent Julie Brown in the complaint.

At one point, Seminerio bragged to a hospital executive that he can provide the “kind of relationship you can’t buy for a million dollars.” Later that day, the hospital informed Seminerio that his check would be sent the following week. The “consulting” work came as hospitals were threatened with budget cuts which were considered to close projected budget deficits.

That hospital executive later complained that a state official “has not been such a great friend for us.” Seminerio told the executive, “You got to tell me those things, and I’ll break his balls, and I have to know what to break his balls about.”

As the investigation continued, the FBI had an undercover agent approach Seminerio about legislation needed to privatize probation services. The agent offered a payment, but was told, “Let me produce something for you... If I produce, then, we’ll you know, we’ll sit down and you’ll congratulate me.” The undercover later agreed to pay him “consulting” fees in exchange for setting up meetings with members of the legislature.

Seminerio, who was a city corrections officer before he launched his political career, was paid $79,500 for his work as an assemblyman.

No comments: