After the attorney representing former state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio argued that his client was a hardworking public servant who bent over backward for his constituents, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald expressed reservations about the defense’s statements.
“Someone who is elected is supposed to support his constituents without being paid more than his salary,” Buchwald said.
It was a phrase Buchwald frequently repeated several times throughout the defense’s daylong arguments at the Oct. 30 pre-sentencing hearing for Seminerio, a politician from Richmond Hill who pleaded guilty in June to taking money from Jamaica Hospital administrators in exchange for lobbying state health officials on their behalf.
“Mr. Seminerio admitted what he did was wrong, but it was not the full-fledged scheme the government alleges,” said Pery Krinsky, an attorney for Seminerio.
Krinsky spent the day in Manhattan federal court last Thursday refuting prosecutors’ statements that the former lawmaker created a sham consulting agency that he used as a bully pulpit to squeeze money out of such organizations as the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and Long Island Rail Road.
Seminerio twice wrote to the state Ethics Committee, in 1996 and 2001, to advise them of Marc Consultants, his company, and he was advised that it was fine for him to make money as a consultant provided he did not make financial gain at the expense of the public nor advocate for state legislation that would exclusively benefit the groups or individuals who were paying him, Krinsky said. He therefore found nothing wrong with accepting money from a variety of Queens groups, according to his lawyer.
Prosecutors had said last week that Seminerio had accepted money from various organizations not as a consultant but rather as bribe money to help the groups by advocating for them in Albany.
“The government has said Mr. Seminerio provided no bona-fide services,” Krinsky said. “… Mr. Seminerio provided very real consulting services for very real clients. Mr. Seminerio did make introductions, did open doors for people.”
Buchwald, again, said she was not persuaded by the defense’s arguments.
“Making phone calls and opening doors seems to be a great deal of what elected officials are expected to do for their constituents,” Buchwald said.
The judge also asked whether Seminerio had any clients who were not constituents, to which Krinsky said there was one: Winston Financial.
Prosecutors charged that Seminerio extorted Jamaica Chamber of Commerce President Robert Richards in 1999. After Seminerio threatened he would squash any legislation that would help the chamber if Richards refused to become a client, the chamber president began paying Seminerio about $700 per month for so-called consulting fees, the government said.
Jo-Anne Rickert, Seminerio’s chief of staff, painted a different picture, saying Richards and Seminerio had a longstanding close relationship and that Richards would frequently spend all day in the former lawmaker’s Albany office.
“He came to our office every day,” Rickert said. “He read the paper, made phone calls, acted up with the girls. He’d spend the day with us .… He was so proud Tony was his daughter’s godfather.”
Rickert said she had not known during that time that the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce was a consulting client of Seminerio’s.
Krinsky also said that while a former LIRR administrator had told prosecutors that Seminerio “called the Long Island Rail Road more frequently than other politicians and tried to get people jobs,” the total number of people he tried to help was about five.
“In approximately an eight-year period, Mr. Seminerio called to assist people in obtaining jobs at the Long Island Rail Road,” Krinsky said. “He sought jobs for one to two of his constituents about every two years.”
Buchwald emphasized to defense attorneys that Seminerio had been caught on tape saying he expected to land jobs for people after finding state funding for the MTA subsidiary.
“Any time that I would give them a $250,000 contribution, or $500,000, for repairs on the rail in to here, I need two jobs,” Seminerio said about the LIRR to former Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, who wore a wire at the request of the federal government, according to court transcripts, to reduce his own jail term for corruption. “Even if I didn’t have anybody, then I find two people and get them jobs.”