Monday, November 2, 2009

For Seminerio, Former Assemblyman, Arranging Hospital Deals Was Costly by Jim Dwyer -

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In the Atlantic Diner in Queens on an afternoon two years ago, you could hear the sounds of a man peeling open the tin can around his soul. Tony Seminerio was a member of the State Assembly from Queens. He’ll do you a favor, get you a contract, what do you need, let me make a call for you, I know that junior commissioner who can send bursts of government cash into the sky — why, he’s a dear friend. Just hire me, Tony Seminerio. Send the money to my consulting company. If you don’t, I hate you, you’re no good.

You might think this act — this burlesque of intimacy — would quickly get old. It is also risky.

To his grief, Anthony S. Seminerio discovered that the man sitting across from him in the diner, another of the dear friends, another crooked politician, was wearing a recording device that day. Mr. Seminerio talked himself into a federal conviction for taking money. Now 74, he waits to find out if he will spend his autumn years in prison.

But listen carefully. The case is about more than the coins rattling in the life of Mr. Seminerio, a former correction officer who spent 30 years in the Assembly talking tough on crime.

On the recording, he says, with truth, that he did yeoman service for the hospitals in his district. He helped Jamaica Hospital Medical Center get millions of dollars in special financing. He awoke to the realization that all he was getting for his labors in Albany were the thanks of the people he was making rich.

He went into business for himself, he said that day in the diner, speaking to Brian M. McLaughlin, a former assemblyman who was recording their conversation in hopes of saving his own hide.

When it dawned on him how well everyone else was doing from his work, Mr. Seminerio said, he decided: “From now on, I’m a consultant.”

Leaving aside laws against bribery, who could blame him?

An important client of the Seminerio consultancy was Jamaica Hospital, and its chief executive, David P. Rosen. Over a decade, Mr. Rosen arranged for payments of nearly $400,000 to the Seminerio company.

How did the years treat Mr. Rosen?

In 2007, Mr. Rosen drew two salaries, one from Jamaica Hospital and another from its parent company, MediSys, for $520,341 and $796,167. He also got a payment of $500,555 toward a retirement fund from the hospital, and $59,861 more from MediSys. This came to more than $1.8 million. The year before, his wages and benefits came to $2.2 million.

This is not to pick on Mr. Rosen, whose wages cover his services for three other hospitals managed by MediSys: Brookdale, Flushing and Peninsula.

A survey of the 200 largest nonprofit companies found that C.E.O.’s at hospitals and medical centers had the highest median pay, at $848,802, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. In New York, the hospital industry pays few executives less than $1 million, with one prominent — and instructive — exception: the city’s public hospital system, the Health and Hospitals Corporation, where the senior officials make only a fraction of the salaries paid at the private hospitals.

Hospitals like Jamaica, which is not part of the city system, still receive almost all their financing from the government. Even so, the state has no part in controlling salaries.

“We do not set compensation levels for any hospital executive,” said Claudia Hutton, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health. “Generally, that should be what the market will bear. We do not want a role in determining executive salaries.”

In February, the I.R.S. published a study of the compensation levels at hospitals across the country and found that they were reasonable by the standards of the tax code.

Mr. Seminerio’s performance on the recording is disheartening on many levels. There are plenty of officials who fight for their communities without putting their hands out. Moreover, it is almost embarrassing to realize that in the decade or so that he ran his consultancy, he collected less than $400,000 from the hospital executives who made millions with his help. He might as well have carried around a tip jar.

He felt entitled to his cut, as he explained in the Atlantic Diner. What, Mr. Seminerio asked rhetorically, “does it mean that we are elected officials?”

He answered his own question with a profanity. Then he asked Mr. McLaughlin: “What was that guy that you replaced?” No one remembered him, Mr. Seminerio said, “and he must have done a lot of good things.”