Report Criticizes Senators on Casino in Queens
State Senate leaders manipulated the choice of who would build New York City’s first casino, leaking information and showing favoritism to a troubled bidder that was donating to Democratic candidates and had ties to key political figures, the state inspector general said Thursday.
In a scathing 308-page report on the competition to install video slot machines at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, the inspector general described a chaotic and ultimately doomed process that was without formal rules or objective criteria, and was awash in “unrestrained political considerations,” lobbyists and targeted campaign contributions.
The report says that the bidder, a consortium called the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, marshaled funds at the behest of the state’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, casting “a taint on the motives behind the Senate leadership’s support of” Aqueduct Entertainment. The investigation included interviews with senators and other state officials, as well as internal e-mail among Aqueduct Entertainment members and lobbyists.
Citing possible violations of laws governing public officials by John L. Sampson, the Senate Democratic leader from Brooklyn; Malcolm A. Smith, the Senate president from Queens; and Angelo Aponte, the appointed Senate secretary, the inspector general’s office said it was referring its findings to federal and state prosecutors and the Legislative Ethics Committee.
“At each turn, our state leaders abdicated their public duty, failed to impose ethical restraints and focused on political gain at a cost of millions to New Yorkers,” Inspector General Joseph Fisch said in a statement. “Shamefully, the public’s best interest was a matter of militant indifference to them.”
The report, following a classic outline of state business distorted by lobbyists, politics and money, emerges in the final weeks of an election season in which candidates across New York have vowed to clean up Albany.
Besides the Senate leaders, the report faults close aides to Gov. David A. Paterson for not keeping him apprised of concerns about Aqueduct Entertainment, blames the governor himself for relinquishing control of the process and criticizes the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, for Sphinx-like silence despite his own knowledge of Aqueduct Entertainment’s problems.
Mr. Paterson, along with leaders of the Senate and the Assembly, selected Aqueduct Entertainment in January to operate 4,500 electronic slot machines at Aqueduct, a franchise worth tens of millions of dollars a year to the operator and an estimated $1.5 million a day in tax revenue for the state’s depleted coffers.
After complaints of favoritism surfaced, Mr. Paterson reversed the selection in March. The casino is now being built by a subsidiary of an international entertainment company, Genting New York, which won a follow-up competition. Among other pledges, Genting offered an upfront payment to the state of $380 million, which it has already paid.
Before the reversal, however, Senators Sampson, Smith and Eric Adams of Brooklyn, the chairman of the Senate racing and gaming committee, mingled with an Aqueduct Entertainment partner, Jeffrey Levine, and Aqueduct Entertainment’s lobbyists at what one participant called a “victory celebration” held at the Albany home of one of those lobbyists, Carl Andrews, a former state senator.
“This report reveals Albany at its most sordid,” said Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “Every New Yorker should be outraged. We urge the district attorney and U.S. attorney to move quickly on the I.G.’s finding of possible violations of the public officers law.”
In a statement on Thursday, the governor’s communications director, Morgan Hook, said, “While we are still reviewing the I.G.’s findings, one thing is indisputable: Earlier this year, Governor Paterson refashioned the selection process for a gaming operator at Aqueduct and further convinced the legislative leaders to adhere to this new process.”
Mr. Sampson released a statement that did not specifically address the accusations. “The inspector general’s report highlights the well-known flaws in the selection of a bidder to operate a video lottery terminal facility at Aqueduct racetrack,” he wrote. “The process lacked structure, and the rules changed repeatedly.”
Several other officials named in the report, including Mr. Smith, Mr. Adams and Mr. Aponte, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. A spokesman for Aqueduct Entertainment declined to comment.