Today’s news:

Legislators defend support of probe target

Three south Queens assembly members wrote letters in support of continuing state contracts with a prison services company that is the target of an investigation into a suspected bribery scheme to win favor among state legislators.

The politicians defended their decision to back Florida-based Correctional Services Corp., which operated halfway houses for prisoners in the city, saying they never received any incentives.

The company is under investigation by state and federal officials who believe it may have provided transportation and campaign services to elected officials in exchange for favorable treatment.

Assembly members Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill), Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and Vivian Cook (D-South Ozone Park) signed letters of support for the company in 1998, when the state was considering ending its contract with CSC.

A fourth southeast Queens politician, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), may have been among the assembly members who received services from the company, The New York Post reported.

CSC operates 13 adult facilities with 4,700 beds across the United States and 33 juvenile facilities, according to its Web site. The company no longer has contracts to manage prisons in New York state, Clark said.

Calls to CSC were not returned.

Seminerio defended his support of CSC and its Long Island-based predecessor, Esmor Correctional Services.

"I'll write the letter if it will help," he said. "I would write a letter for anybody."

Clark said she thought the company's services - operating halfway houses and drug-treatment programs to help prisoners make the transition back into society - were greatly needed.

"It's a very necessary program to prepare people to function in a world outside prison," she said.

Clark was impressed by the company's high rate of employment for released inmates and by the necessity of the program, she said.

But neither Seminerio nor Clark received any goods or services for their support, they said.

"I never took a ride," Seminerio said, referring to reports CSC provided transportation services as bribes. "I never abused it."

Clark echoed his sentiment.

"I received no benefits from them one way or another," she said. "I had no other knowledge of what's being talked about now."

Cook and Meeks could not be reached for comment.

Meeks, who served in the state Legislature before being elected to Congress in 1998, was allegedly named in a federal report saying Correctional Services Corp. provided services in the mid-'90s to the Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus in Albany, of which Meeks was a member, the Post reported.

The company is being investigated by several government agencies, including the Albany County district attorney's office, the state Lobbying Commission, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Former Bronx Assemblywoman Gloria Davis admitted that the company gave her bribes earlier this month in a plea bargain deal with the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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