"Tony, you vote against it," responded Cuomo, another Queens neighbor and wise to the assemblyman's frequent naps at his Assembly desk. "At least this way we'll get a vote out of you."

But all of that bluster started seeping out of Tony Seminerio like air from a punctured tire on the day last year that the FBI knocked on his door to ask about the side business he ran as a consultant. How was it, they wanted to know, that an elected official received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from local institutions—a college, a couple hospitals, and a medical benefits firm among them—that depended on his support in Albany? What exactly was the difference, they asked, between his legislative duties and the tasks he performed for his paying clients? Agents Brian Fitzpatrick and Christopher Kelly duly recorded his answer: "I don't charge my constituents," the assemblyman said as if he were cutting them a price break.

He thought of himself as "The Godfather," he told the agents. People come to him, he said, and he tries to help. As for the routine passing of legislation, he confessed it was over his head. "Eighty percent of the bills I vote for, I don't know what the hell it is," the agents quoted him as saying.

This exchange proves that Seminerio deserves the maximum sentence for dumb comments to federal officials. But there was also truth to his lawyer's claim that he often extended himself to those in need. One such was Brian McLaughlin, the ex–labor leader, a good friend who served with Seminerio in the Assembly. McLaughlin's own indictment for massive thefts was almost a year old when he met Seminerio at the Atlantic Diner in Richmond Hill in September 2007. Seminerio thought he was there to help an old pal and he casually explained how he ran his consulting business. McLaughlin, wearing a wire for the feds, was there to help himself. Outside court last week, Seminerio was asked what he'd been thinking. "What can I tell you?" he said. "I'm a sucker for a loser."

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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