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Seminerio faces 14 yrs. in jail for hospital bribes

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Anthony Seminerio, a 74-year-old former state assemblyman from Richmond Hill, faces up to 14 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 4, a federal judge said last week in a decision that accuses him of abusing his power to bully money out of hospitals, nonprofits, and other groups in exchange for lobbying state officials on their behalf.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said in her 46-page decision filed in Manhattan federal court Jan. 14 that Seminerio “breached the public trust” by creating 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.

“Seminerio received payments for actions that would not be expected of a diligent public servant, such as collecting debts, using official clout to maintain contracts that were lucrative to the assemblyman and even trading state funding for jobs,” Buchwald said.

Buchwald’s statements came after a three-day pre-sentencing hearing in October. Seminerio, who has been out on bail, will face between 135 months and 168 months in prison at a hearing Feb. 4 — 11 days before the former legislator’s 75th birthday, the judge ruled.

Seminerio’s attorney did not return requests for comment.

Seminerio pleaded guilty last June to taking more than $300,000 from Jamaica Hospital administrators in exchange for lobbying state health officials on their behalf.

The federal judge in the Manhattan began her decision by quoting Seminerio.

“‘What the [expletive deleted] does it mean to be an elected official?’” Buchwald quoted Seminerio as saying in secretly recorded tapes. “‘It doesn’t mean s---.’”

Buchwald said Seminerio’s “record is devoid of any bona fide consulting services that fall outside the scope of activities an elected official could readily be expected to perform on behalf of his or her constituen­ts.”

The judge 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.

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.

The judge also knocked Seminerio for what she said was using his position to secure jobs for friends at the LIRR in exchange for security state funds for the railroad.

“‘You know how many people I got jobs in the rail road?’” Buchwald quoted Seminerio as saying. “‘Any time that I would, uh, give them a $250,000 contribution, or $500,000, for repairs on the rail in there, I need two jobs. Even if I didn’t have anybody, then I find two people and get them jobs.’”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

Updated 5:44 pm, October 10, 2011
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