Sunday, December 7, 2008

Seminerio, 73, Seeks Deal to Avoid Long Jail Sentence by Lee Landor - Queens Chronicle

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Veteran Richmond Hill Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, who was arrested in September on federal charges of corruption, is allegedly trying to negotiate a plea deal with the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The Daily News reported on Saturday that Seminerio’s lawyer, Ira Cooper, confirmed the negotiations, but when a Queens Chronicle reporter spoke with Cooper in a telephone interview on Monday, he refused to comment on the case.

Cooper would not even verify whether he is holding discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “There’s no comment at all,” he said. “It’s too early in the proceedings to discuss this further.”

He went on to say he will no longer speak with reporters on the subject. “With all due respect to the media ... I won’t be interviewed any further.”

But, Cooper told the Daily News last week that is seeking a plea deal to keep his 73-year-old client out of jail. “An imprisonment for him would be much harder than for a healthy young man,” Cooper was quoted as saying. He indicated that Seminerio is in poor health and has heart problems.

The 16-term legislator was charged in September with taking $500,000 in bribes through a fake consulting firm that offered favors to companies and individuals doing business with the state.

Although charges were brought, a federal indictment has not yet been unsealed and might not be until after Cooper and prosecutors settle a deal: without one Seminerio faces up to 20 years in prison.

It could be difficult to reach an agreement that will keep Seminerio from lockup because of harsh sentencing guidelines set up for elected officials.

Cooper told the newspaper that in order to accept a plea deal — which could open Seminerio up to a harsh sentence — he needs more information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Federal prosecutors cannot make sentencing commitments and judges do not get involved until after a guilty plea is entered, Cooper had noted.

According to a 17-page criminal complaint filed against Seminerio in September, the former city corrections officer used the firm Marc Consultants, based out of his Ozone Park home, to accept bribes from people who wanted him to represent their interests in the state Legislature.

Investigators used an FBI agent to pose as a prospective new client and set up a witness — an acquaintance of Seminerio’s for 15 years — to record conversations with the assemblyman.

After Seminerio’s arrest, it was reported that the secret witness was former Assemblyman and union boss Brian McLaughlin who pleaded guilty to bribery charges earlier this year and faces up to 10 years in prison.

Seminerio’s next court date is Dec. 10.