While his corruption may have overshadowed his 31-year state Assembly career, former colleagues of disgraced Richmond Hill Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio chose to remember him as an outspoken man who delivered for his constituents.
Seminerio, 75, died last Thursday while serving the first year of a six-year prison sentence, said Edmond Ross, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Ross could not provide any further details about his death, including why, where, how or what time he died. Seminerio was being held at the Federal Medical Center at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.
A Manhattan federal judge sentenced Seminerio to six years in prison Feb. 4 for abusing his power as a lawmaker and extorting money out of hospitals, nonprofits and other groups in exchange for lobbying state officials on their behalf.
Former state Sen. Serphin Maltese, who was a close friend of Seminerio’s, said the late lawmaker was ill when he was sentenced and knew he would die in prison.
Maltese would only say that Seminerio had stomach and bleeding problems and “he knew he’d never come out” of prison.
“It’s hard to put aside the 30 years” he was in the Assembly, Maltese said. “He was like a bulldog. He made sure his constituents got help.
“He was the traditional Democrat, the old-style Democrat that believes in meeting the people, helping the people themselves.”
Maltese said Seminerio’s old-fashioned ways are not seen in Albany now.
“He was the type of person you don’t see in politics — his handshake was very good, his word was very good,” Maltese said.
While Maltese said he communicated to Seminerio through letters, he would not go into what the missives said or if Seminerio felt remorse.
“Of course, he felt very bad that his family had to go through,” he said.
Seminerio’s successor, Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven), left out any references to Seminerio’s crimes in a statement.
“For over 30 years, Anthony Seminerio represented the 38th Assembly District with passion and dedication,” Miller said. “We should remember all of the good things that he has done for the community. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to his wife and his children.”
The six-year sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald was far less than the 14 years Seminerio could have received. He was also ordered to pay a $1 million fine.
“When you were elected, you were given a great privilege,” Buchwald told Seminerio during his sentencing hearing. “You abused the trust placed in you.”
Seminerio pleaded guilty in June 2009 to taking more than $300,000 from Jamaica Hospital administrators in exchange for approaching state health officials to promote their interests. The federal prosecutors, led by William Harrington, said Seminerio created a sham consulting agency, Marc Consultants, to squeeze $1 million out of Jamaica Hospital, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Plaza College in Jackson Heights, the Long Island Rail Road and other organizations while in office.
Seminerio’s sentence is four years less than that given to Brian McLaughlin, the former Flushing assemblyman who originally put Seminerio in touch with an FBI agent posing as a developer. The FBI listened in on and recorded numerous conversations with Seminerio that were later used in court. Seminerio got $25,000 from the FBI agent and in exchange agreed to propose legislation favored by the supposed developer.
McLaughlin is now serving a 10-year jail term for stealing $2.2 million from a neighborhood Little League, city contractors and his own labor union.
Seminerio represented Glendale, Ridgewood, Middle Village, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park and Woodhaven for 31 years. Before his legislative career, Seminerio was an executive board member of the city Corrections Officers’ Benevolent Association.
He also had some bit parts in movies, according to his Assembly biography.
Former Assemblyman and current City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said he does not condone Seminerio’s criminal behavior but said he remembered how Seminerio would always ask how his mother, Sylvia, was doing following the death of his father, the late Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin.
“He was a bigger-than-life figure,” said Weprin, who filled his father’s Assembly seat in 1994. “He was an old-school guy who talked street talk, but I think he was good-hearted and lost his way.”
At a 2008 party honoring Seminerio’s 30 years in the Legislature at La Bella Vita in Ozone Park, before the investigation into Seminerio became known, the legislator reflected on his legacy.
“The bottom line is I helped everybody who needed help,” he said. “On a scale of one to 10, I was a good eight or nine. And I’m proud of that.”
Seminerio is survived by his wife Catherine, son John and daughters Anna and Mabel.