Sunday, November 30, 2008

Queens Democrat Seminerio Charged with Corruption by Kenneth Lovett - NY Daily News

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Longtime Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio is trying to negotiate a plea deal on his federal corruption charges, the Daily News has learned.

Photo: Hermann for News

Seminerio's lawyer, Ira Cooper, confirmed he has been in discussions with the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office.

"You talk to them, you wait, and soon we'll have to make a decision on what to do," Cooper said.

The lawyer said because the Queens Democrat is 73 and in poor health, he's hoping to avoid prison time, which could be difficult under harsh sentencing guidelines for elected officials.

"An imprisonment for him would be much harder than for a healthy young man," he said. "It's very hard to tell someone in his health that if you say you're guilty, you could go to jail for years."

Federal prosecutors cannot make a sentencing commitment and judges will not get involved until after a guilty plea is entered, Cooper said.

"They've offered me something to plead guilty to, something like using a scheme or a device to embezzle, but it would open him up to those sentencing guidelines," Cooper said. "In order to decide whether [to accept a plea deal], we need a lot more information from the U.S. attorney's office, which at this point they may not want to give us.

"No one knows how much time he is facing."

Without a deal, prosecutors have said Seminerio faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the influence-peddling charges.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney had no comment.

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

"I cannot say whether he committed a crime or not," Cooper said, adding that the legal team is trying to identify a "viable defense."

A preliminary court date has been postponed three times, with the next scheduled for Dec. 10.

While the veteran pol has been charged, no federal indictment has been unsealed. Legal experts say that's not uncommon when prosecutors and defendants are trying to make a deal.

Seminerio earlier this month ran unopposed for a 16th term. His lawyer said he suffers from heart problems and a host of other illnesses. "When the time comes, and if it has to come, we'll have 200 letters of recommendation asking the court to be lenient," Cooper said.