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The criminal case against Queens state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio on bribe-taking charges, coming as it does less than a year after the conviction of former Flushing Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin on similar charges, casts a dark cloud over the entire state Legislature.
Prosecutors allege that Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill) created a phony consulting company named Marc Consultants that charged clients for access to state legislators who were in a position to advance their interests. The FBI said that although the assemblyman did little consulting work, he was able to collect more than a half million dollars from his clients.
According to a published report, Jamaica Hospital alone paid Marc Consultants $310,000. If that's the case, what exactly did the hospital execs expect to get for their money? They had to know that there was an ethical problem inherent in paying that kind of money to influence legislation.
There was speculation last week that the FBI had used McLaughlin as an informant to build their case against Seminerio. If that's true, it shows an incredible audacity on Seminerio's part and a belief that people in state government could get away with just about anything. McLaughlin has pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges and is facing eight to 10 years in federal prison.
The question now is whether McLaughlin and Seminerio are two bad apples in an otherwise honorable institution or, as we suspect, that corruption runs rampant through state government. State legislators are free to own businesses and work full time at other jobs. Unlike the city, the standards for monitoring conflicts of interests in Albany are far more relaxed.
The law must be changed so that tax returns and all sources of income for state legislators and their spouses become a matter of public record. This becomes more complex for people like Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who works for a powerful law firm that represents clients with interests in state legislation. In this case, the firm can say these are not Silver's clients.
The members of the state Senate and the Assembly must realize that state government has lost all credibility. Radical reform must be undertaken to win back the public's trust.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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