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The timing couldn’t be worse for top Brooklyn Democrat Vito Lopez. Last week, he quietly let friends know that he’s had a recurrence of the cancer that’s been in remission since the mid ’90s. He’ll be undergoing heavy chemotherapy over the next few weeks. Today comes a Times story stating that there are not one, not two, but three separate investigations of his Bushwick Brooklyn empire underway.
One was pretty much public knowledge: A deeper look into the operations of the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Center, the sprawling social services agency that Lopez helped found and helps fund as the local assemblyman. A detailed 10-page Department of Investigation memo surfaced last week, faulting the group for having know-nothing board members and allowing pockets of fraud to fester in its programs.
The two others are federal, writes the Times‘ William Rashbaum. In a stroke of even worse luck, they are being conducted separately by often-dueling prosecutors in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The Manhattan case has a clear head start: Information on Lopez is being offered by Brian McLaughlin, the disgraced former labor leader and assemblyman from Queens who won a 120-month prison sentence for stealing $2 million from everyone and everything he could. Back in May, prison officials say, McLaughlin was removed on a writ from the federal prison medical center in Butner, North Carolina and brought to a private prison facility in Jamaica, Queens where he’s under the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. It’s a nice break for McLaughlin, who left a wife and young child behind in Long Island when he went to prison.
Just what he’s saying about Lopez is unknown, but he’s clearly been talking about him for a long time.
Last November, hearings were held in Manhattan federal court for former assemblyman Tony Seminerio who had pled guilty to fraud, but was trying to convince his judge not to slam him too tough with his sentence. Seminerio owed his conviction to his own big mouth and his former pal, McLaughlin, who wore a wire on his longtime friend and fellow legislator, getting him to say inspiring things like, “What the fuck does it mean that we’re elected officials? It doesn’t mean shit.”
But when Seminerio’s attorneys started playing tapes of the legislator’s conversations with an FBI undercover agent posing as a businessman that McLaughlin had introduced him to, they showed that the agent kept bringing the conversation around to Lopez. At one point the agent, who was pretending to hire Seminerio as his secret consultant, asked about brownfields, the contaminated former industrial sites that were then being cleaned up with deep subsidies handed out by Albany officials. The agent brought up Lopez’s name, saying he’d heard that Lopez was knowledgeable about them. Seminerio helped arrange a meeting for the two, but it’s not known what came of it.
Another conversation had the agent calling in allegedly from the City Hall area, asking if Seminerio knew a woman named “Battaglia” who was on the city’s Planning Commission. It took Tony a while to figure it out, but then he got excited. “Oh yeah,” he said, “that’s Vito’s goumada!” For those from Phoenix, that’s Italian slang for mistress.
Actually, Lopez and Angela Battaglia have been together in a perfectly respectable New York-style relationship for many years, and she’s done well by him. She is housing director for Ridgewood Bushwick where her most recent $330,000 salary helped spark the recent round of scandal stories in the tabs.
Prosecutors refused to talk about what McLaughlin is doing up here in Queens, when he’s supposed to be in some distant federal lockup. His attorney Michael Armstrong also clammed up. “He’s six-four, so he’s pretty hard to hide,” he said.