Thursday, December 11, 2008

Assemblyman Sold His Office, Grand Jury Asserts by Jeremy W. Peters -

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A federal grand jury indicted a state assemblyman on Wednesday, charging that he effectively put his legislative office up for sale by demanding cash payments for delivering state business.

A criminal complaint filed in September alleged a bold fraud scheme in which the assemblyman, Anthony S. Seminerio, incorporated his own consulting firm to conceal the illegal payments. On Wednesday, a grand jury found enough evidence to indict Mr. Seminerio on one count of mail fraud “to solicit and receive a stream of corrupt payments.”

Mr. Seminerio, 73, would face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Reached on his cellphone on Wednesday evening, Mr. Seminerio declared his innocence. “I’m bewildered by everything,” he said. “I’m not a crook.”

The indictment makes claims of fraud that is more extensive than outlined in a complaint in September. The complaint accused the assemblyman of receiving about $500,000 from hospitals and other entities that had business before the state from 2000 through this year. The indictment, however, said that Mr. Seminerio received about $1 million. In exchange, the indictment said, Mr. Seminerio rewarded the businesses by arranging “favorable treatment.”

Mr. Seminerio’s case has prompted renewed calls from government watchdog groups to strengthen New York’s ethics laws, which allowed the assemblyman to conceal the payments through a consulting firm that he identified on his financial disclosure forms. Because the Legislature keeps tight control over what it publicly releases about lawmakers’ finances, specific information on the amount of income Mr. Seminerio received is redacted from the forms that are available to the public.

The only income that the forms revealed from 2005, 2006 and 2007 were payments of at least $1,000 from an entity identified as Marc Consultants.

The indictment asks that Mr. Seminerio forfeit the $1 million that he is alleged to have earned by soliciting the payments.