Sunday, November 23, 2008

Embattled Pol Spends $35G in Campaign Cash to Fght Federal Charges by Kenneth Lovett - NY Daily News

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Facing federal corruption charges, Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio has used $35,000 in campaign funds to help pay his legal fees, the Daily News has learned.

Seminerio's campaign cut the check to Rosedale lawyer Ira Cooper on Sept. 19, Board of Elections filings show.

Seminerio's campaign treasurer, Lisa Loughlin, confirmed the payment was for legal work connected to his arrest.

"According to a state Board of Elections ethics opinion, the expenditure is permissible," Loughlin said.

While not commenting specifically on Seminerio, state Board of Elections spokesman Robert Brehm said the board issued a formal opinion in 1989 allowing the use of campaign cash for legal fees if the charges are related to the holding of office or running of a campaign.

Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, blasted the use of campaign money for legal fees.

"This should be illegal," Horner said. "These are campaign funds, not legal defense funds."

Federal prosecutors filed corruption charges against Seminerio in September after an undercover investigation.

Seminerio is accused of pocketing $500,000 in payoffs through a sham consulting company that offered favors to entities with business before the state.

A preliminary hearing in the case is set for Dec. 10, by which time he could be indicted by a federal grand jury or make some type of plea.

Despite his lingering legal troubles, Seminerio, 73, this month ran unopposed for a 16th term.

Seminerio is not the first criminally charged state legislator to dip into his campaign account for legal fees.

- Former state Controller Alan Hevesi, who pleaded guilty to using state employees to chauffeur his wife, used at least $750,000 in campaign cash to pay his lawyers.

- Former Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $2 million, paid his lawyers $500,000 from his campaign coffers, but later refunded the money.

- Former state Sen. Guy Velella, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit bribery in 2004, used $400,0000 from his campaign on legal fees.