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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Empire's Desperation Is Evident

- We've read a lot about the ties between Excelsior principal Richard Fields and Gov-elect Eliot Spitzer. Fields provided Spitzer with rides on his airplane that came under scrutiny during the campaign, and there's been speculation that the reform-minded Spitzer could consider the appearance of impropriety in his awarding the franchise to Excelsior.

But it seems as if rival Empire Racing has a magnanimous plane owner of its own - Jared Abbruzzese, described by the Albany Times-Union as an investor in, and a driving force behind Empire.

Abbruzzese is...under investigation by the state lobbying commission for providing his aircraft to [Senate Majority Leader Joseph] Bruno for several trips, including a fund-raiser and tour of horse farms in Kentucky last year that Barr set up for Bruno.
In e-mails collected by the state lobbying commission in its investigation into Abbruzzese, Tim Smith, president of Friends of New York Racing, said Abbruzzese was Bruno's "close friend."
As you may know, though Bruno is not the governor, few key decisions in the state are made without his ascent. Some feel that Empire's recent proposals aimed at Saratoga, part of Bruno's district, are intended largely to help sway him to their side. Bruno has expressed his preference for a for-profit outfit to run the tracks, and Excelsior's proposal envisions a non-profit setup on the racing side.

But unlike Spitzer, Senator Bruno apparently isn't too concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest. He has been linked to a $500,000 handout of taxpayer money, in the form of a grant, to a company called Evident Technologies Inc. Initial funding for Evident came from an investment firm run by Jared Abbruzzese, according to a news report posted on the company's Web site. [NY Post]

What makes the grant highly unusual is that Evident is a for-profit company. According to the information, released under a court order mandating disclosure of so-called "pork-barrel" spending, the small but growing nanotechnology company was one of just two for-profit businesses among thousands of member item recipients reviewed by the Times Union. Reporter James Odato adds that for-profit companies almost never receive these member items, as such earmarks are called.

Not surprisingly, Abbruzzese is also a campaign contributor to Bruno, having donated some $42,500 to the Senator since 2000.

(Abbruzzese resigned as a director of Empire in October. Jeff Perlee....said Abbruzzese left to eliminate a distraction and because a consultant recommended the board become more independent by not having investors on its board.)

Meanwhile, Empire continues its media blitz, though its press conference yesterday received less coverage as it all starts to become a whiny drone. Tom Precious, reporting for, writes that the group, acting like a high school student unhappy with a grade and attempting to re-write his paper after the fact, is adding proposals that were not in its bid to the state committee that picked Excelsior, and has offered to put up more money. Excelsior spokesperson Howard Wolfson reacted with predictable and understandable scorn.
"Instead of accepting this decision, Empire is now attempting to undermine the Committee's work by asking for a "do-over" in the hopes that it can make its bid as strong as Excelsior's..

"Unfortunately for Empire, once the race is over, it can not be re-run, and Excelsior was the clear winner at the finish line. Our package is the best one for fans, horsemen, and taxpayers, and no amount of rhetoric after the fact from Empire will change that." [Bloodhorse]
And I presume that if Empire is allowed to change their bid at this point, Excelsior is too.