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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Friends and Family in High Places (and Planes)

- Thanks to reader Marc, who sent an email with some more info on Excelsior's William H. Johnston Jr., or Billy, as he apparently likes to be called. Balmoral Park's media guide informs us:

Billy Johnston has been involved in Chicago racing for more than 35 years. A 1957 graduate from the University of Miami, Billy served in the United StatesCoast Guard until 1961. Johnston has kept those Florida ties by serving as vice president of the Orange Park Kennel Club, Inc., the Jacksonville Kennel Club, Inc. and the St. John’s Kennel Club, Inc.
These three greyhound tracks are all owned by Jacksonville Greyhound Racing, Inc.,; the fact that Johnston is not listed on their corporate contact page indicates that his actual involvement is likely limited. But nonetheless, there you go; hopefully that sets the record straight.

Better yet is the list of Balmoral's officers and directors:








*Indicates also a Director



A lot of Steinbrenners and Swindals there, and that should give you an idea of what the corporate directory at Excelsior may look like should they get the nod. Interesting to see Leonard Kleinman on the list; he was dismissed as the COO of the Yankees in 1992 in a complex dispute involving George Steinbrenner's reinstatement to active ownership after he was suspended by baseball commissioner Fay Vincent in 1990 over payments to a gambler.

- The NY Times checks in today with a front page story on the connections between NY's Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and Empire investor Jared E. Abbruzzese, a story about which we posted previously. The article emphasizes Abbruzzese's role in Empire, and the Senator's crucial role in ultimately deciding on the franchise, and notes that the two quickly bonded over their shared affection for thoroughbred horses.
The state’s lobbying commission is investigating Mr. Bruno’s use of Mr. Abbruzzese’s Mitsubishi MU-300 business jet, trying to determine whether Mr. Abbruzzese violated state laws by allowing Mr. Bruno free or discounted use of the plane even as Mr. Abbruzzese’s group was lobbying on the racing franchise.
In addition to the plane rides and the state handout to Evident Technologies, the article reports that shortly after a trip to Washington on Abbruzzese's private plane, Bruno bought stock as part of an IPO in a Texas securities firm in which Abbruzzese was "intimately involved." A spokesperson for Bruno dismisses the issue because the Senator ultimately lost $19,000 on the deal. For more than three months, however, his shares were worth as much as $10,000 more than he paid for them.
Some ethics experts contend that the value of an investment is irrelevant to whether there is a potential conflict.

“The motivation is the issue, not the result,” said Richard D. Emery, a Manhattan lawyer who served on the State Government Integrity Commission in the 1980s and is part of a panel advising Mr. Spitzer on government reforms.
The story reports that the two men met often during the time that Bruno was a shareholder in Abbruzzese's company, including a meeting in the spring of 2005 that included Tim Smith, at the time the head of Friends of New York, and now another investor in Empire. According to testimony by Smith:
Mr. Abbruzzese invited him to chat with Mr. Bruno about the state racing franchise “during an informal visit by the senator to Mr. Abbruzzese’s home” in the spring of 2005. [Smith] later referred to the meeting in a memorandum to the group’s board, saying it had been arranged by Mr. Bruno’s “close friend” Mr. Abbruzzese.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping us posted on the events in NY racing. While there have not been many comments lately, I assure you there is an audience.

The more information gathered the more confused I become. Once thing appears certain, Empire and Excelsior have covered their bases in Albany. Both seem to have greased the wheel sufficiently, so hopefully all of the greasing offsets and ultimately we end up with the scenario that best furthers the health of a very important industy in NY State.

From my visit to the Big A yesterday, I can report there is plently of angst among horsemen and employees. Peoples lives are affected (effected?) and the uncertainty for the second year running during the Festivus season is taking its toll.

The cloud of closure and/purse reductions is hanging over the place.

If I took a poll from my bird on the wall position it appeared to me that both horseman and employees, if given the chance to vote, would prefer NYRA retain he franchise with the current administration in place. Everyone appears to like Hayward, Nader et al, or at least would be willing to tolerate them instead of dealing with the uncertainty of a new administration.

There is a lot of resentment of prior management for putting the franchise at risk, and of the state for the obvious stalling of the VLTs.

100% of the sample loved the fact that NYRA is suing the state, want to see the obstruction exposed for what it is, regardless of who eventually prevails in the bidding process.

Thanks again.

Alan Mann said...

Anon, thanks for the feedback, I appreciate that. Interesting to hear the results of your unscientific poll. I think that Hayward has been open and honest, and that counts for a lot when you're dealing with unknowns.

Anonymous said...

Your welcome.

Bottom line I gathered was everyone liked the original Empire concept, but then soured on the idea when all the outside interests came on board.

Excelsior remains a mystery, while NYRA has cleaned up its act whiling running under extremely difficult restraints.

My take is they deserve a chance to redeem themselves as an organization with the proper business model and VLT's in place. Just not right to force them to operate all these years with a broken model, only to fix it and let some outsider profit from the fix.

Not to mention the eminent domain issue. Some real classy people contributed this land a long time ago for the benefit of a sport they loved. Should the state be allowed to take the land because of a few mistakes (and lets face it, in the broad scheme of things how bad REALLY were the illegalities that surfaced, does the punishment fit the crime?).