Bharara complaint details activities of unregistered influence peddler

By BILL MAHONEY 09/23/16

ALBANY — While announcing sweeping criminal charges against individuals close to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday morning, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara referred to one of them, Todd Howe, as a “powerful and connected lobbyist with close ties to the governor’s office.”

Based on the details provided in Bharara’s complaints, to which Howe has pled guilty, it’s clear that Howe was connected and had close ties to the governor’s office. But while Howe meets the dictionary definition of a lobbyist — for the entirety of Cuomo’s tenure, he’s partially made his living off influencing New York’s government — he hasn’t been registered for most of this time.

Click on the link below to read the rest of Bill Mahoney’s story:

Michael Benjamin

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5 Hollywood Movies Infiltrated By China | China Uncensored/ VIDEO

I’m a fan of the Epoch Times newspaper (a media group that includes NDTV) for their support of religious freedom in China and opposition to the Communist party dictatorship that runs that nation.

It’s very obvious that Hollywood is putting making money in the (soon-to-be the world’s largest movie market) ahead of human rights concerns and democracy. The CCP only permits 34 "foreign" movies to be shown in China annually. The Chinese Communist Party keeps 75 cents of each dollar earned at the box office.

The Epoch Times/NDTV China Uncensored explains that Hollywood tailors many of its films to be among the 34 movies shown in China. They hedge their bets by hiring Chinese stars or film sequences with Chinese actors that are only in the version released in China. Watch the video and learn.

5 Hollywood Movies Infiltrated By China | China Uncensored /

"There’s a pretty good chance that the next hit blockbuster you watch will have been changed to appease the Chinese Communist Party."

Twitter: @SquarePegDem

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Corruption in Nigeria: Former First Lady Investigated | Quartz Africa

Patience Jonathan, the colorful wife of Nigeria’s ex-president, Goodluck Jonathan, has become the latest high profile Nigerian embroiled in a corruption-related scandal. Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has frozen accounts containing $31.4 million controlled by the former first lady who claims some of the money was for payment of medical bills.

In a bid to regain control of the accounts, Mrs Jonathan is suing the EFCC, describing the blockage of access to the accounts as efforts to “indirectly harass or harangue” her. Patience Jonathan’s corruption scandal is the latest in a string of cases the EFCC has been involved in since president Buhari took office last year.

Buhari has made good on his campaign promise to launch probes into government agencies and institutions.
Six months after taking office, Buhari’s administration arrested Sambo Dasuki, the former national security adviser for financial misappropriation of about $2 billion earmarked for military equipment amid the Boko Haram insurgency.

Military chiefs have also been questioned and, in some cases, detained over similar charges.

Michael Benjamin
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New York City Councilman Sits During Pledge Of Allegiance — CBS New York

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A New York City councilman refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance Wednesday to protest racial injustice in the United States. Council member Jumaane Williams, D-Brooklyn, sat during the pledge to make a “private protest public” during a City Council meeting. The rest of the City Council members stood and…

via New York City Councilman Sits During Pledge Of Allegiance — CBS New York

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Primary Elections Held for Albany Lawmakers in All Five Boroughs Tuesday Video

On Monday, I was also interviewed by NY1 Albany reporter Zack Fink in a preview of Tuesday’s primaries. []

While the presidential election has taken up most of the political oxygen in the room, tomorrow is primary day in New York for legislative races. Several incumbents are facing primary challenges in districts that are heavily Democratic, meaning whoever wins the primary will likely emerge victorious in November. And as state House Reporter Zack Fink points out, there are also five open seats here in the city.

One of the most closely watched races in State politics is for the open seat being vacated by State Senator Adriano Espaillat who is running for Congress. The 31st District covers part of Upper Manhattan but also runs down the borough’s west side.

Four candidates are running for the seat including former City Councilman Robert Jackson, Micah Lasher, a former aide to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, activist Luis Tejada and Espaillat’s hand-chosen candidate Marisol Alcantara who has received financial support from the breakaway faction of Democrats in the state senate, the IDC, who have an alliance with Republicans.

“Makes it very interesting to see what happens,” said Michael Benjamin an Associate Editorial Page Editor with the New York Post. “I know the IDC wants to maintain a separate caucus. They want to have a say, they want to be kingmakers. And she could allow them to do that.” [00:35]

The race is also on in the district of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in Lower Manhattan who had held the 65th Assembly seat for 40 years before being convicted of federal corruption late last year. Six candidates are running in the primary including Alice Cancel, who has ties to Silver and won the seat in a special election back in April.

Some believe the specter of Silver looms large in this race.

“There are those who have a great deal of loyalty to him,” Benjamin said. “But I’m not quite sure about the support for Alice Cancel. The reports I hear are that she has been invisible in that district.” [01:05]

And on Staten Island we find the only Republican Primary in the City. Incumbent Ron Castorina Jr. is being challenged by Janine Materna who recently accused Castorina of getting arrested years ago, and having the records expunged. She offered no proof for this allegation, and some Republican leaders have called on Materna to drop out of the race.

Unlike the Senate where the outcome in November will likely determine who controls the Senate, the Assembly is expected to stay under Democratic control no matter what the outcome.


Posted by Michael Benjamin

Twitter: @SquarePegDem

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Pre-Primary Election Edition of NY1 Inside City Hall (09/12/2016)

On the September 12, 2016 episode of Inside City Hall, hosted by Errol Louis:

A special panel of local political experts – Michael Benjamin from the editorial board of the New York Post; Stephen Witt from the Kings County Politics website; and Patrick Donachie of The Times Ledger – previewed key state legislative primaries in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. [Our segment begins at timestamp: 23:05 and ends at 32:18.]

Posted by Michael Benjamin

Twitter: @SquarePegDem

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Assemblyman Bill Nojay faced federal fraud charge |

On Friday, New Yorkers learned of Rochester Assemblyman Bill Nojay’s suicide. Condolences go out to his family, friends and constituents. We never really know someone or the secrets he holds.

Local newspapers are reporting that AM Nojay was to be criminally charged by federal prosecutors in connection with an alleged embezzlement of $1.8 million from an account he handled for a longtime client and friend, architect Carlton "Bud" DeWolff. In addition, other sources have confirmed that Nojay was implicated along with two others in the alleged swindle of a wealthy Cambodian doctor and there was a local school modernization inquiry involving a company owned by the assemblyman.

Wow. Perhaps, the burden of those secret dealings got the best of Bill Nojay.

Assemblyman Bill Nojay faced federal fraud charge |
Gary Craig and Steve Orr, September 9, 2016

Assemblyman Bill Nojay, who died by suicide Friday morning, had been scheduled to appear Friday in U.S. District Court to face fraud-related charges connected to a trust fund he handled as an attorney, according to sources familiar with the case.

Before the scheduled court appearance, Nojay contacted his lawyer via text message and said he planned to take his life, the sources say.

The attorney contacted police, who went to Riverside Cemetery, where Nojay fatally shot himself before police could intervene.

Nojay has been at the middle of various controversies recently. He was a silent partner in a company that won a tentative contract to oversee the second phase of the $1.3 billion Rochester schools modernization project. And he was one of four defendants in a fraud trial in Cambodia, where Nojay and three other men formed a company to process and export rice. The four were accused of obtaining a $1 million investment from a wealthy Cambodian, then shutting the company down.

While multiple media outlets Friday linked Nojay’s criminal charge to either the school modernization or the Cambodia project, the Cambodian case had nothing to do with it. And while agents reportedly found the alleged fraud as an offshoot of an investigation into the modernization program, the criminal charge had nothing to do with that matter, either.

Instead, Nojay was to be criminally charged in connection with the alleged embezzlement of $1.8 million from an account he handled for a longtime client and friend, architect Carlton "Bud" DeWolff said Friday afternoon.

In interviews conducted this spring, the two said they’d known each other for 30 years. Nojay had acted as legal counsel to DeWolff from time to time, and DeWolff had done architectural work for several organizations on whose boards Nojay sat.

DeWolff said he was devastated by Nojay’s death. "I’m still in shock," he said Friday afternoon. "He was always an upstanding person."

The federal fraud charge was sealed Friday morning, and has yet to be unsealed.

Criminal complaints and indictments are sometimes sealed and not released publicly with an agreement that the accused will appear in court. Then, in court, the criminal charge is unsealed and becomes public.

However, with Nojay never formally charged in court, it is unclear whether the complaint will be unsealed.

Michael Benjamin
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Justice delayed for Shelly Silver | New York Post

Shelly Silver will stay out of jail for what looks to be another year, thanks to US District Court Judge Valerie Caproni’s ruling Thursday that the disgraced former Assembly speaker can remain free on bail pending his appeal of his landmark corruption conviction.

But it’s justice delayed, not denied — yet. And he still must start making payments on the $7 million he owes in fines and restitution as a result of his conviction.

Sheldon Silver avoids jail for at least another year
Sheldon Silver avoids jail for at least another year
What’s up? Caprioni saw a decent chance that Silver could win his appeal thanks to the recent Supreme Court ruling that tossed the conviction of Virginia ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell.

But that’s far from a sure thing — because the crimes that earned Silver a 12-year bribery sentence were markedly different from the McDonnell case.

The high court let the Virginian off because he hadn’t actually provided official actions in exchange for the gifts he received from a businessman.

Silver, by contrast, plainly did abuse his office: most notably, to funnel $500,000 in state funds to a doctor who then referred patients to Silver’s law firm, for which the firm paid the speaker millions.

That leaves Silver’s lawyers hoping to make a procedural case — namely, that because Caprioni didn’t define “official action” for the jury, his conviction might be tainted.

We trust US Attorney Preet Bharara’s team can persuade the courts otherwise. Sheldon Silver plainly belongs in prison.

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State senator tries taking down challenger by alleging Trump ties | New York Post

State senator tries taking down challenger by alleging Trump ties
By Carl Campanile August 23, 2016

A Bronx state senator has sent out a campaign mailer linking his Democratic primary rival to Donald Trump — even though the challenger has spoken out against the Republican presidential nominee.

The mailer sent to voters shows a picture of Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who is challenging Sen. Gustavo Rivera, next to a photo of Trump.

But the mailer — with the headline “Tell Me Who Your Friends Are and I’ll Tell You Who You Are” — does not identify who paid for it.

After The Post inquired about the mailing, Rivera’s campaign owned up to its responsibility.

Cabrera, who is also a minister, participated in a rally outside City Hall last December to denounce Trump’s comments on immigrations and Muslims.

“This is a smear,” said Cabrera campaign manager Michael Olmeda.

“Rivera is doing what Trump does — he’s being a bully.”

Michael Benjamin

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Court’s ruling on corrupt NY pols’ pensions is long overdue | New York Post

Corrupt New York pols who dream of retiring with fat, taxpayer-provided pensions just took a big hit in court.

Score one for justice and common sense.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 2d US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that pensions of convicted lawmakers can be seized — even though the state Constitution prevents those egg nests from being “diminished or impaired.”

US Attorney Preet Bharara has been targeting the retirement pay of legislators he’s convicted, rightly calling it a “galling injustice” that crooked pols continue to collect cushy pensions until “their dying day.”

The two corrupt former legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, are in line for $80,000 and $96,000 respectively.

But the judges said disgraced former Assemblyman Eric Stevenson must surrender the $22,000 he paid into the system because the state Constitution is “pre-empted” by federal law, which allows “forfeiture” of property derived from a crime “irrespective of any provision of State law.”

In 2011, Albany stripped newly elected legislators of their pensions if convicted. But they couldn’t touch those already in office, like Silver and Skelos, because of the state Constitution.

This year, after much kicking and screaming, the Legislature OK’d a constitutional amendment to allow the pensions of corrupt veteran pols to be seized retroactively. But it wouldn’t take effect for at least several years. Which makes the 2d Circuit’s ruling all that more important.

Crooked pols have long rested easy knowing they had a taxpayer-funded cushion to fall back on if they got caught. That cushion was just yanked from under them.

Michael Benjamin

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