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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Friends of Friends of Friends

- Friday's NY Times article on the ever-expanding FBI probe of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno calls his trip to Kentucky in October, 2005, arranged by two officials of Friends of New York Racing including Jared Abbruzzese, whose name is coming up everywhere in this affair, as a catalyst for investigations into the business activities of Mr. Bruno. Furthermore, it states that Friends and Abbruzzese have emerged as central elements of separate investigations by the state lobbying commission and a federal grand jury.

The grand jury is investigating whether the payments by Abbruzzese to Bruno's consulting company were intended to influence him in the matter of the franchise. Besides arranging for his flight, Friends picked up catering costs at [the] Lexington, Kentucky fundraiser for the New York Senate Republican Campaign Committee [Albany Times Union]. In addition, the group held a fund raiser for Bruno in Saratoga two months prior. The Times' piece goes on to emphasize that many Friends officials went on to become key players and/or investors in Empire.

This all brings to mind the Albany Law School Forum of this past summer, when NYRA's Charles Hayward confronted Friends head Tim Smith, who was also present on the Kentucky trip, about the question of what Friends' true intentions were. He elicited an admission by Smith that he was an investor in Empire. Hayward was particularly piqued about Smith addressing a meeting of the New York Thoroughbred Horseman's Association in February, at a time when Empire was seeking their endorsement, which they eventually got. To Hayward, Smith's attendance at that meeting was proof positive that the former National Thoroughbred Racing Association commissioner was laying the groundwork for Empire while saying on the other hand the Friends project was completely independent. [Thoroughbred Times, via Racing Saratoga] Once again, Hayward must be smiling over the present developments.

Friends of New York disbanded in February of this year after releasing their final report last December, one which recommended that the state “permit any form of business or venture” to bid on the franchise. In addition to Smith and Abbruzzese, Friends board members Dennis Brida, the head of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders , and Richard Bromze, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA), both became involved with Empire; Brida is the group's executive VP. The Friends' backers also included Magna, Churchill, and Woodbine, all now investors in Empire. Whatsmore, Empire CEO Jeff Perlee was a member of Friends' Business Advisory Council.

Excelsior apparently has an official with Friends in high places too. Veterenarian Jerry Bilinksi was on that flight with Bruno. Described by The Times as a "close friend" of the Senator, he was a consultant to Bruno on racing until June. He has also been subpoenaed by the grand jury.

Bilinski was briefly the head of the state's Racing and Wagering Board in 1995-96, a stint which led to him having the kind of ethical ghosts in his closet that you'd think a group bidding for a franchise in an industry in which honesty is a requirement would avoid.

In June 1996, the [State Ethics] commission found “reasonable cause” to believe that Dr. Bilinski violated state law 30 times by selling breeding rights and other horse-related services to, and owning horses with, people licensed by the board. Dr. Bilinski resigned his $90,823-a-year job that August.

That did not end Dr. Bilinski’s troubles. In November 1996, after receiving two anonymous tips, the state inspector general found that he improperly used state money for trips to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in February and to Louisville, Ky., in May. [New York Times]


Anonymous said...

Capital play is looking better and better every day, just be remaining anonymous.

Green Mtn Punter said...

The Senate Republicans don't seem to be bothered by the disclosures of Bruno's conflicts of interest if Nassau County and State Party Chair Joe Mondello is any indication. The party boss says Sen Bruno will retain his Majority Leader position come Jan 3rd- but then a state party chair would be expected to circle the wagons in a politically charged fight such as this one. It's going to be a while before all of this is sorted out, to be sure,and to see what damage has really been done to Empire and Excelsior; as for Capitol Play, I thought they were banned from receiving the NYRA signal a couple of years ago since they were involved in questionable off shore rebate activity, or am I wrong? So how could they be considered for the franchise?! NYRA can continue to stand pat for now and let their competitors and political opponents self-destruct. An observation on the media coverage: The Times is hammering Bruno for all it's worth, and we should not be at all surprised by their treatment of a powerful, upstate Republican; on the other hand, if you've been reading The Saratogian, the only story I've seen about Bruno's problems other than wire stories inside the paper is the P 1 story today to say that Mondello expects Sen Bruno to retain his majority leader post handily. Nothing like positive spin, and perhaps Mondello's right. Well, Joe Bruno is the Saratoga area senator, and has brought lots of goodies their way, so don't bite the hand that feeds you. Whatever happened to " fair and balanced" reporting, or is that the exclusive domain of Fox News?

Green Mtn Punter said...

Alan, by the way I did hear from Bennett Liebmann in re the franchise battle. He seemed to indicate that the legislature and gov could just put their seal of approval on the Ad Hoc Committee's recommendation of Excelsior, or whichever bidder finally receives their official blessing, and the package of reforms included in that bid, and wham, bam, boom, we would have a new 20 year racing and VLT franchisee. No annoying delays inherent in the legislative process such as committee hearings, committee approval,and a floor vote. I just can't believe how egocentric legislators would let something like the 20 year racing and VLT franchise go through without sticking their noses in it, can you? How can complex racing and wagering laws be wiped off the books, and new ones added, without the proper legislation to memorialize all of this? Do legislators ever accept a package submitted by a bidder and then give it their full, complete, and final blessing without getting in their 2 cents worth, starting with their pet committee hearings? Any LATG readers out there who can tell us just exactly how this will play out? Any LATG readers who fancy themselves as legislative insiders?!

Anonymous said...

I am not a legislative insider but a mere spectator and researcher.

The NY Times reports that there is a Federal Grand Jury.

95% of all Federal Grand Jury's indicit.

92% of those indicited are convicted.

How are those for odds at the track.

The horse is out of the barn and not going to stud.

Looks like horse Joe is going to be whipped and ridden