Embattled state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D−Richmond Hill) recently made a $35,000 payment to his lawyer representing him in a federal fraud case by using funds from his re−election campaign account, state Board of Elections records showed.
A BOE spokesman said a 1989 board ruling found that expenses incurred in legal defense of a criminal matter arising from holding political office can be funded through a campaign account, but he declined to comment specifically on Seminerio.
“I can’t speak to the facts of Mr. Seminerio’s situation because we don’t have them all,” said the spokesman, Bob Brehm.
Seminerio, a 30−year incumbent who faces 20 years in prison on mail fraud charges for allegedly setting up a sham consulting firm to take in more than $500,000 in corrupt payments, used $35,000 to pay legal fees for his defense from his Friends of Seminerio campaign account, according to the Board of Elections Web site.
The 73−year−old assemblyman made the payment to his Rosedale−based attorney, Ira Cooper, on Sept. 19, according to the campaign finance records. The $35,000 was documented in Seminerio’s filing as being used on legal fees.
Lisa Loughlin, Seminerio’s campaign treasurer, said the expense was perfectly legal.
Seminerio was arrested over the summer on federal charges following an undercover investigation that involved an FBI agent posing as a client of the assemblyman’s consulting firm. According to the criminal complaint, the agent and Seminerio met in Albany, where the assemblyman told the “client” he could arrange meeting with influential legislators in exchange for money.
The assemblyman was also allegedly heard on a wiretap speaking with a hospital official, believed to be from Jamaica Hospital, about making a payment to Marc Consultants — the sham consulting firm, the complaint said. Seminerio allegedly received $310,000 from the hospital, according to court papers.
Seminerio has yet to be indicted in the case. He has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Dec. 10, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, at which point he can be indicted or make a plea. His arrest came too late for Democratic leaders to take his name off the September primary ballot and the assemblyman eventually won re−election unopposed in November.
Michael Reich, executive secretary of the Queens Democratic Party, told TimesLedger Newspapers following Seminerio’s arrest that the organization was not going to abandon Seminerio based on an allegation.
Seminerio, who has been in office since 1978, currently has $4,048 in his campaign account.
He ran unopposed for his seat last month.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz
©2008 Community News Group
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