- 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]