FBI NABS '$500,000 GRAFT' ASSEMBLYMAN
By FREDERIC U. DICKER and BRENDAN SCOTT in Albany and JENNIFER FERMINO in New York
GOTCHA: Anthony Seminerio, at court yesterday, allegedly introduced an FBI undercover man to other elected officials.
September 11, 2008
In an unprecedented sting that brought an undercover FBI agent onto the state Capitol floor, a veteran Democratic assemblyman from Queens was busted yesterday for allegedly taking $500,000 in bribes, prosecutors announced.
Anthony Seminerio, 73, who has represented South Ozone Park since 1978 and often boasted he was "John Gotti's assemblyman," was charged with running a secret consulting firm through which he pocketed the cash in return for peddling influence in Albany.
"Mr. Seminerio crafted a plan to receive such payments in a fashion effectively shielding those payments from public scrutiny," said Mark Mershon of the FBI.
Seminerio, released on $500,000 bail, declined to comment as he walked out of Manhattan federal court. His wife, Catherine, told reporters, "Drop dead!" and stuck out her tongue.
Using a cooperating witness, phone taps and, eventually, an undercover agent, investigators were able to unravel how Seminerio hid the alleged scam while pressing Albany colleagues to help him aid constituents who had paid him cash.
None of the several state lawmakers who were approached by Seminerio and the undercover - including Assemblymen Robert Sweeney (R-Suffolk) and Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens) - are suspected of any wrongdoing.
"I don't, on a personal level, appreciate bring dragged into this," said Sweeney, who believes he is the "Assemblyman 4" referred to in court papers.
According to a criminal complaint, Seminerio established a firm called Marc Consultants in 2000. People who approached him to wield his influence in the Assembly were allegedly told to deposit checks into the company's account.
In one episode earlier this year, Seminerio allegedly pocketed $390,000 from a hospital in his district whose officials approached him for help securing extra funding during threatened budget cutbacks. In several taped phone conversations, Seminerio said he would "go rattle some cages," but only if the officials "find me a check."
"That kind of relationship you can't buy for a million dollars," he said in one recorded conversation.
In late 2007, the FBI had a cooperating witness introduce Seminerio to an undercover agent posing as a businessman trying to secure contracts with the state. Seminerio agreed to help him.
Over several months, the agent wrote $25,000 worth of checks to Marc Consultants in return for Seminerio's alleged promises of help.
Then, in a shocking twist, beginning in March, Seminerio allegedly arranged for the agent to come to Albany to meet several state senators and assemblymen to discuss his business proposals. On at least one occasion, Seminerio brought the agent into the Capitol building, through security and onto the floor of the Assembly, the feds said.