A Manhattan federal judge sentenced Anthony Seminerio, a former state assemblyman from Richmond Hill, to six years in prison Thursday for abusing his power as a lawmaker and extorting money out of hospitals, nonprofits and other groups in exchange for lobbying state officials on their behalf.
The six-year sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald was far less than the 14 years Seminerio could have received. The 74-year-old politician will have to report to the Bureau of Prisons within 30 days as well as pay a $1 million fine, Buchwald said.
“When you were elected, you were given a great privilege,” Buchwald told Seminerio, who spent much of the morning sentencing with his head down and hands folded. “You abused the trust placed in you.”
Seminerio pleaded guilty in June to taking more than $300,000 from Jamaica Hospital administrators in exchange for approaching state health officials to promote their interests. The federal prosecutors, led by William Harrington, said Seminerio created a sham consulting agency, Marc Consultants, to squeeze $1 million out of Jamaica Hospital, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Plaza College in Jackson Heights, the Long Island Rail Road, and other organizations, while in office.
The legislator, whose 75th birthday is in 11 days, did express concern about how he would fare during his six years in prison.
“I’m 74 years old,” Seminerio said. “How much time do I have left?”
Family members, friends and supporters of Seminerio packed the courtroom Thursday and several cried as Buchwald read her decision.
Michael Ross, a defense attorney representing Seminerio, described his client as a hardworking man born into an impoverished immigrant family and asked that Buchwald’s decision allow him “the hope that at the end of the sentence he be able to spend the short time left in his life with his family and his wife of 50 years.”
Buchwald addressed his family and friends at Thursday’s sentencing, saying the former lawmaker had not honestly explained to them the “breadth of his criminal conduct.”
“Mr. Seminerio, I don’t know why you strayed from the values you were brought up with,” Buchwald said. “…Was it greed, or did you rationalize your behavior?”
Seminerio’s sentence is four years less than that given to Brian McLaughlin, the former Flushing assemblyman who originally put Seminerio in touch with an FBI agent posing as a developer. The FBI listened in on and recorded numerous conversations with Seminerio that were later used in court. Seminerio landed $25,000 from the FBI agent and in exchange agreed to propose legislation favored by the supposed developer.
McLaughling is now serving a 10-year jail term for stealing $2.2 million from a neighborhood Little League, city contractors, and his own labor union
The federal government said Seminerio accepted money from Jamaica Hospital in exchange for pushing through legislation that favored and securing funding for the medical institution. Buchwald also said Seminerio favored Jamaica because of the bribe money and advocated against Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills. Parkway officials have contended in a $100 million civil lawsuit that the hospital was forced to close down after it did not pay bribes to Seminerio.
Seminerio extorted about $21,000 from the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce by threatening JCC President Robert Richards with “threatening to block legislation that Richards proposed if Richards would not enter a consulting agreement with the assemblyman,” Buchwald said in a pre-sentencing memorandum filed Jan. 14.
The Richmond Hill lawmaker landed more than $170,000 from Plaza College’s vice president, after which Seminerio “used his role in the Assembly to benefit” the Jackson Heights institution, according to Buchwald. The college administrator has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Specifically, Buchwald said Seminerio advanced a piece of legislation that made it difficult for Plaza College’s competitors by introducing a three-year review period before colleges could begin to confer associate degrees, which the Jackson Heights college was already authorized to give out.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson
©2010 Community News Group
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