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The Ones to Watch

A Metroland roundup of some of the high-profile people who see to it that the media always have something interesting to report

 

Compiled by Metroland staff

 

Eliot Spitzer rode the wave of prodigious victory to the Capitol in 2007, campaigning the entire way that his administration would “change the ethics of Albany.” Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Albany District Attorney David Soares have dedicated considerable resources to their Public Integrity Units, jumping into the fray of the day’s high-profile ethics scandals.

Currently, the “Troopergate” scandal, which has consumed the media for months, highlights perspicuously the politics-as-usual nature of Albany: Powerful state Sen. Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) is caught up in allegations of misuse of state helicopters. But before the dust settled on the accusations, he managed to shift the weight of scandal onto his fiercest political opponent, Gov. Spitzer. Two investigations later, it would come out that neither man appears to have committed a crime. Yet, if the media frenzy surrounding the rather banal Troopergate is an indication, the public is fed up with corrupt politicians and is ready to see some heads roll.

In an effort to help, Metroland has put together a list of the people at the heart of some of the more egregious allegations of corruption and misdeed. As Albany independent candidate for the 4th Legislative District Jose Lopez would say, these men appear to “sit at the same table that corruption sits.”

Joseph Bruno

New York state senator (R-Brunswick) and Senate majority leader

Alleged Crime

Widely suspected of political kickbacks; the FBI has been tight-lipped

Background

What can be said about Sen. Joe that hasn’t already been uttered, scribbled, or angrily slurred? A true American classic, the scrappy onetime pugilist pulled himself up by his bootstraps from humble beginnings to secure a long-held seat at the table of power in New York state. His critics are quick to claim that he runs Rensselaer County like a fiefdom, protecting his allies-run-amok and crushing his opponents. Nothing goes down in this county, they say, without the old man’s approval.

In political life, Bruno boasts an adeptness for the bob and weave; his one-two combinations landing more than a few knockouts. His masterful gamesmanship is most recently evident in the months-long series of investigations stemming from the so-called “Troopergate.” When allegations broke that he had used state helicopters to travel to and from New York City for political events, it was shaping up to be a PR calamity. Though his travels were not illegal, they were definitely questionable.

Dogged by extremely public battles with the new, feisty governor, Eliot Spitzer, Bruno took the opportunity to slap down his nemesis, and shifted the onus of scandal onto the new governor’s shoulders by exclaiming that the Spitzer administration had used the New York State Police to spy on him. The state attorney general’s office investigated and found that neither men had committed a crime. And now, even after Albany District Attorney David Soares has cleared Spitzer of any wrongdoing, Bruno’s Senate has moved forward and voted itself subpoena power to continue its own investigation into the Spitzer administration. The Brunswick Bruiser is nothing if not tenacious.

Proving harder to dodge for 78-year-old Bruno, however, is the FBI investigation that came to light late last year. Though the senator claims the feds are only interested in his “outside business interests,” all eyes have turned to his onetime business partner and friend, Jared Abbruzzese.

Bruno, it has been alleged, took personal gifts from uber-rich entrepreneur Abbruzzese in exchange for state grant money. Although the FBI has not said what it is investigating regarding Bruno, Abbruzzese himself has become the target of a state lobbying commission investigation. The commission findings report that the $34,100 of air travel, which Abbruzzese arranged for Bruno, was in violation of lobbying law that caps campaign contributions at $75. In apparent exchange for these travel gifts, Bruno arranged for two $250,000 state member-item grants for Abbruzzese’s Troy-based firm, Evident Technologies Inc. Bruno has not been implicated in the state investigation.

Status

The FBI investigation is ongoing. U.S. Attorney Glenn Suddaby, who has been investigating the case, recently was nominated for a federal judgeship.

Threat Level: high

 

Jared E. Abbruzzese

Businessman

Alleged Crime(s)

Crooked dealing and financial flirtations with Sen. Joseph Bruno

Background

Wealthy Loudonville businessman Abbruzzese currently is entangled in the FBI investigation of his friend, Senate Majority Leader Bruno, though neither of the men have stated what, exactly, is being investigated.

A report by the state lobbying commission stated that Abbruzzese gave $34,100 worth of private jet flights to Bruno, in violation of lobbying law that bans gifts to public officials over $75.

The flights are suspected to be a reciprocation for Bruno’s investment of state funds into Evident Technologies Inc., a nanotechnology company Abbruzzese helped to create. The company received two $250,000 member-item grants from Bruno, though state money allocated for member items is meant to be given to nonprofit organizations. According to the Times Union, the grants are under investigation by the FBI.

Abbruzzese has further ties to Bruno through their shared investment in the horseracing industry. While co-chair of Evident, Abbruzzese’s partner, Wayne Barr, was Bruno’s appointee on the New York Racing Association. After the lobbying commission began investigation of Abbruzzese, he rescinded his position with Empire Racing Associates, one of four bidders Bruno could approve to operate the state’s racing franchise.

In 2002, Abbruzzese’s consulting firm, Communication Technology Advisors (CTA), was hired by Motient Corp., a wireless communications company, to provide financial advice, while Abbruzzese was still a director at Motient. CTA received millions from the transaction, according to Business Week.

Abbruzzese then allegedly pressured Motient to hire Tejas, Inc., an investment bank from whom he had purchased thousands of shares of stock. Bruno said that he bought stock in Tejas as well. After the hiring, Tejas’ shares increased by 900 percent.

Status

Abbruzzese has been called to a civil penalty hearing under the newly created State Commission on Public Integrity, which will be formed at the end of the month, though he continues to fight the subpoena. He faces up to $250,000 in penalties for the flights alone, though it has been pointed out that loopholes in the system may clear him from being charged with illegal activity.

The IRS has filed a lien against Abbruzzese and his wife Sherrie for $2.9 million, from their 2005 income taxes. The FBI investigation continues.

Threat Level: medium

 

Alan G. Hevesi

Former state comptroller

Alleged Crime(s)

Profiting from the pension fund

Background

Investigators from the state attorney general and Albany County district attorney’s office are looking into whether aides and political allies of former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi were awarded contracts by investment firms that did business with the $154 state pension fund, of which Hevesi was the sole manager.

Hevesi allegedly poured hundreds of millions of dollars into firms that then paid money to companies affiliated with Hank Morris, Hevesi’s former top political consultant.

One such company is Searle & Co., a small Greenwich, Conn., financial- services firm. The New York Post reports that Morris received $13 million from the firm, while also earning money on the sly as a board member at eSpeed, a company that processed trades for the pension fund.

According to the current state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, documents relevant to the case disappeared following the resignation of Hevesi appointee David Loglisci, who served as deputy comptroller for pension investment and cash management.

In order to conduct a full investigation, New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has invoked the Martin Act, a law that gives complete authority of investigation to the attorney general’s office, including subpoena power and the ability to file civil and criminal proceedings.

Other matters being looked into are whether Hevesi’s former chief of staff, Jack Chartier, engaged a state-employed driver to chauffer former Mod Squad actress Peggy Lipton, and whether Hevesi’s sons, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Queens) and Daniel Hevesi, who works for a hedge fund, also benefited from their father’s misdoings.

The investigations are icing on the cake for Hevesi who was accused by Republican opponent Christopher Callaghan during last year’s election of using a state employee to chauffeur his wife. The chauffeur arrangement would have been acceptable if Hevesi had reimbursed the state, which, he claimed, he “forgot” to do.

Then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer had the comptroller place $90,000 in an escrow account until both the state Ethics Commission and the attorney general’s office completed investigations. Despite the scandal, Hevesi defeated the inexperienced Callaghan soundly. Soon after his reelection, Hevesi was found guilty of defrauding state government of $180,000, “with no intention of paying the state back,” according to Gov. Pataki-appointed prosecutor, David Kelley. Spitzer concurred.

After another investigation by Albany District Attorney David Soares found that there was criminal intent in Hevesi’s actions, Hevesi took a plea bargain with the Albany County Court on Dec. 22, 2006, and resigned from his office.

Status

Ongoing investigation that keeps revealing new alleged crimes.

Threat Level: medium

 

John Sweeney

Former United States congressman, Republican, 20th District

Alleged Crime(s)

Numerous alleged ethical violations, undue influence on state police

Background

Sweeney earned his nickname “Congressman Kickass” from President George W. Bush thanks to the take-no-prisoners style he put to use during the Brooks Brothers Riot amid the Florida recounts of the 2000 election. Sweeney reportedly led that interference.

During his eight years as representative for the 20th Congressional District, Sweeney faced down, and mostly avoided, myriad ethical questions. One of the most striking concerns focused on a trip Sweeney took to the Marianas Islands with associates of crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Sweeney failed to disclose that his trip was privately funded, which is a violation of congressional rules. He insisted that Marianas officials had paid for the trip, an accusation they deny.

Sweeney had a number of other ethical dilemmas involving lobbyists and donors.

On top of that, Sweeney had a reputation of partying just a little bit too hard. Pictures of his notoriously red-faced visit to a Union College frat house spread through the Internet like wildfire. The story of Sweeney’s one-car accident in 2001 was also popular among his political enemies, as Sweeney was never administered a sobriety test despite the fact that he admitted to consuming alcohol before the crash.

Sweeney’s many critics all assumed that one of the plethora of ethical questions dogging the congressman would be what cost him his seat. Instead, a media-revealed police report regarding a domestic-violence incident involving Sweeney and his wife, Gaia, began his descent. And it was his response to the report that may have truly cost him his seat. Sweeney charged that the report was false, perhaps the work of his political enemies. But later Sweeney and his wife acknowledged that they knowingly lied. Earlier this month, the state Police Benevolent Association delivered a comprehensive report on changes needed in the state police.

The report noted that there was an active cover-up inside the state police to make the domestic violence call to Sweeney’s home look like a “generic service call.” The report further requested the establishment of a review panel that could look into ethical dilemmas such as the Sweeney cover-up.

Status

As he currently is dealing with the results of a rather nasty and public divorce, it is questionable whether Sweeney will try to recapture his seat next fall from Kirsten Gillibrand. If Sweeney were to throw his hat back in the political arena, his ethical baggage presumably would come with him.

Threat Level: low

 

Robert Mirch

Three-job Bob has earned the moniker: Troy commissioner of public works; majority leader in the Rensselaer County Legislature (R-Troy); and constituent liaison for Sen. Bruno

Alleged Crime(s)

Running a political-campaign consultancy business out of the Rensselaer County legislative offices, and engineering election-year tomfoolery

Background

Mirch is known in Rensselaer County for his aggressive, take-no-prisoners politicking. So when the allegations surrounding “Tonyagate” hit the presses earlier this year, none of his critics was surprised.

According to former Sand Lake supervisor and onetime Rensselaer County Republican staffer Colleen Regan, it happened back in 2005, when Mirch whisked her away from her duties at the legislature. Together, she claimed, the two traveled in a public vehicle to Troy City Hall. There, during office hours, she said, she was forced to perform a very unique, and illegal, bit of election-year campaigning. Sitting in Troy Deputy Mayor Dan Crawley’s office, she was handed a script and told to assume the personage of a fictional woman named “Tonya.” She then read from the script, accusing Troy City Councilman Bill Dunne (D-District 4), who was reeking reelection at the time, of sexually harassing her. The message was to be used as part of the political campaign of Dunne’s opponent.

Two years later, after getting fired from her position with the majority, Regan’s allegation came out in an unrelated complaint that she filed regarding her dismissal with the state Department of Human Rights. Seizing upon Regan’s affidavit, Troy Democrats clamored for an investigation, and Albany County District Attorney David Soares was appointed special prosecutor to do just that.

And it doesn’t stop there. In a second affidavit, which Regan filed with Soares’ office, she widened the scope of her allegations. In this affidavit, she alleged that Mirch was running a consultancy firm, Victory Lanes LLC., with business partner Richard Crist, out of the Rensselaer County legislative offices. Meanwhile, outside of the work done for Victory Lane, she said, county staffers were routinely employed to perform political campaign work, including preparing fundraising mailers, solicitation letters, letters to residents, “reminder cards to vote on primary day, do me a favor cards.”

“Basically, Republican headquarters was not down in the Atrium [in downtown Troy],” Regan said. “It was in the Rensselaer County Legislature.”

Mirch has denied the charges and accused Regan of being a disgruntled employee.

Status

The Albany district attorney’s office investigation is ongoing.

Threat Level: medium

 

Richard Crist

Republican legislative liaison

Alleged Crime(s)

Sexual harassment, and running a business out of the Rensselaer County legislative offices

Background

After losing her job with the Republicans in the Rensselaer County Legislature, Colleen Regan filed a formal complaint with the state Department of Human Rights. In it, she claimed that she had been fired in retaliation for rebuffing the pervasive sexual advances of her superior, Crist. Mirch and Rensselaer County Chairman Neil Kelleher immediately defended Crist, decrying the accusations.

Though Regan’s accusations of abuse didn’t stop with sexual impropriety. In a following affidavit, she went on to detail allegations of election-year skullduggery, and misuse of city and county resources by Crist and Mirch. These allegations attracted widespread attention, eventually leading to the appointment of Albany County District Attorney David Soares as special prosecutor. In a second affidavit to Soares’ office, Regan outlined endemic abuses of Rensselaer County staff for political campaigns. Further, she described how Crist, along with business partner Mirch, ran their campaign consultancy firm Victory Lanes, LLC, out of the offices of the Rensselaer County Legislature. The two men, she deposed, were charging upwards of $5,000 a race to help candidates with their campaigns.

“I and my coworkers witnessed various candidates, which were running for an elected office,” Regan deposed, “frequently visit the legislature on a regular basis during their election campaign season to consult with Mr. Crist. . . . These candidates were clients of Victory Lanes, LLC, and were seeking out Mr. Crist’s expertise regarding their election campaign strategy, while Mr. Crist was on the job at the county.”

She goes on to list 11 candidates, including Troy City Councilman Mark Wojcik, Nassau Supervisor Carol Sanford, and Troy City Council President Henry Bauer, who allegedly visited the Legislature building to take advantage of Victory Lanes’ services.

Crist has denied Regan’s allegations, telling Metroland that he looks “forward to speaking with the special prosecutor, to clear up these charges.”

Status

The Albany County district attorney’s office and Deptartment of Human Rights investigations are ongoing.

Threat Level: low

 

Thomas McTygue

Saratoga Springs comissioner of public works

Alleged Crime(s)

Ethical violations

Background

A 30-year incumbent as the commissioner of Public Works in Saratoga Springs, McTygue follows the legacy of his father, who also occupied the powerful position for a number of years. Although a Democrat by registration, McTygue is an ally of Republican Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Brunswick) and has close ties to a number of wealthy Republican developers. As DPW commissioner, McTygue has made friends with his beautification projects and enemies with his tenacious dogging of perceived enemies.

McTygue currently faces a Department of Environmental Conservation investigation into oil spills in the Department of Public Works garage that some workers say were scheduled to be covered up rather than cleaned up. Reports suggest the investigations scope has widened to other areas including illegal dumping on the site of the cities planned recreation center. Meanwhile, numerous sources inside and outside the DPW department carry the cards of several FBI agents who they claim have interviewed them regarding an investigation into McTygue. They insist McTygue has gotten too close to developers during his long time in office and that he wields the DPW as a political tool.

McTygue denies the accusations and insists that talk of an FBI investigation has been manufactured by his political enemies and that the scope of the DEC investigation has been increased thanks to undue influence by the husband of his political nemesis, Saratoga Springs Mayor Valerie Keehn. David Keehn works at the DEC.

McTygue repeatedly has faced down accusations that he does not actually reside in the city of Saratoga Springs, despite the fact that he openly admits that he lives on a farm outside of the city limits.

Status

The progress of the DEC ‘s investigation is not quite clear. All that is for sure is that it is ongoing. The status of any alleged FBI investigation is far from clear, as the FBI does not confirm or deny any investigation.

Threat Level: medium

 

Aaron Dare

Former head of the Urban League of Northeastern New York

Alleged Crime(s)

Real-estate fraud

Background

When Dare became president of the Urban League in 1996, he worked to shift the league’s focus onto real-estate ventures. The most ambitious of these ventures was a $40 million commercial and residential complex, Gateway Commons, in Arbor Hill, ventured with capital from Housing and Urban Development and local banks, among others. The largest tenant on the property was the National Finance Corporation (NFC), which was expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the inner city. Dare was lauded as a hero by residents and elected officials.

However, in 1998, things begun to collapse as the league fell into heavy debt and NFC backed out of the deal, citing its own financial corruption. In 2001, then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer declared that Dare misdirected state and federal taxes and prohibited him from working in a financial or policymaking position in the state for 10 years.

Dare had created several real estate corporations—Emerge Real Properties, LLC; Emerge Construction; and Emerge Residential Historic Community I, II, and III—and he declared his intentions to restore historic and inner-city properties to create affordable housing. Using $7.4 million in HUD funds, Dare bought inner-city properties in Albany and Schenectady and placed them under the management of convicted felon Robert Bove. The properties fell into disrepair, and Dare ceased making mortgage payments. In 2004, HUD foreclosed on the properties, forcing taxpayers to lose millions.

For two years, Dare was missing in action, until he reappeared in Albany, drinking $900 bottles of cognac with Kenneth Wilcox, a former Albany Police detective, who would go on to die in a car crash. Dare worked with Wilcox and “others” to act as fake real-estate buyers. He was arrested in 2006, and was released after pleading guilty in federal court to felony charges regarding fraudulent real-estate sales. The state police arrested Dare on Aug. 1 for fraudulent real-estate practices in Albany’s South End, as well as for coercing appraisers into raising the value of decrepit properties.

Status

According to Albany District Attorney David Soares, Dare has been indicted on four felony counts for real-estate scams as of Sept. 12. of this year. Prosecutors have expressed concern that Dare may be a flight risk, as he has money stashed in offshore accounts. Federal sentencing is scheduled for this month.

Threat Level: high


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