Former Queens assemblyman Tony Seminerio died today in a federal prison hospital in North Carolina where he was serving out the six-year fraud sentence he received in February. Seminerio, 75, had long been in poor health. Prior to his sentencing by federal Judge Naomi Buchwald for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs from clients seeking Albany favors, Seminerio had told the court that his ailments included coronary artery disease, hypertension, and morbid obesity.
Seminerio was convicted after confiding his sins to Brian McLaughlin, another assemblyman from Queens who also pled guilty to his own schemes. “What the fuck does it mean that we’re elected officials?” Seminerio told McLaughlin amid the clinking of diner china in a fall, 2007 conversation. “It doesn’t mean shit.”
Unfortunately for Seminerio, McLaughlin was recording these words for posterity and in a bid to ease his own punishment by federal authorities.
A former corrections officer, Seminerio was a conservative Democrat from southwest Queens, whose penchant for popping off was well-known in Albany.
Just this morning, Newsday‘s Dan Janison, reporting on Andrew Cuomo’s first State of the State speech, cited the infamous moment when Seminerio stood up to heckle Cuomo’s father Mario during his own 1992 State of the State speech. Cuomo Sr. was warning the assembled legislators that a stalled budget could stall their paychecks as well. “Don’t tell me I won’t get paid for my work!” boomed Seminerio from the floor. “We’re here every day, 14 or 15 hours a day.”
Mario Cuomo, well aware of Seminerio’s penchant for dozing at his desk and missing votes, didn’t miss a beat: “Tony, you vote against it,” responded the governor. “At least this way we’ll get a vote out of you.”
After McLaughlin made him a target for the FBI, Seminerio was recorded by an undercover agent, posing as a businessman eager to get legislative help. His phones were also tapped. In one conversation with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Seminerio was heard pitching for his client, a large Queens hospital:
“I mean, Shelly, for Christ’s sake. You, you know something? Honest to God, if I’m wrong, say, ‘Tony, you’re wrong.’ You know it. I don’t give a fuck how educated you are, if you’re not in good health, what good is it gonna do you?”
He was so right.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 6, 2011