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$325,000 fine sought against Vacco firm

State lobbying investigators are recommending $325,000 in fines against a firm led by former State Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco for three alleged violations of New York's lobbying laws during its representation of a Rochester businessman trying to win a casino deal with an Oklahoma Indian tribe.

The state lobbying commission, in one of its last official acts before it goes out of business later this year, in June will hear the case against Crane & Vacco, the agency's board ruled Tuesday.

The agency is being folded into a larger department in September that will oversee a variety of lobbying and state ethics matters.

A year ago, Vacco's firm was cleared by the Albany County district attorney's office of allegations by state lobbying officials that a contract between Vacco's firm and Rochester businessman Thomas Wilmot violated prohibitions against success-fee contracts, which call for extra remuneration depending on the success of the lobbying effort.

The Albany prosecutor was acting on evidence turned over by the lobbying commission, which already had been investigating Vacco's firm.

Lawyers for Vacco have said the work the former attorney general did for Wilmot did not constitute the state's legal definition of lobbying at the time because there was no attempt to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation. Moreover, they said a contract at issue with Wilmot was never signed.

David Grandeau, executive director of the lobbying commission, said the case against Vacco's firm was never dropped, even after it was referred to Albany County prosecutors.

On Tuesday, Grandeau presented the commission's board with three referrals against Vacco's firm, including failure to file required lobbying documents with the agency on a timely basis and filing a false statement of registration. In all, the three violations carry fines of $325,000 if they are sustained, Grandeau said.

Vacco declined comment Tuesday.

But his firm recently filed a motion in State Supreme Court in Albany seeking to block a subpoena issued by the lobbying agency for James Crane, an Albany lawyer married to Constance Crane, Vacco's partner in the lobbying firm.

The March 9 court papers accused Grandeau of using "the investigative powers of his office to pursue a personal vendetta against Mr. Crane, ignoring lawful procedure and subjecting Mr. Crane to bad faith inquisition in the hope of discovering some reporting irregularity upon which to prosecute him." The papers accused Grandeau of "persistent and abusive harassment" of Crane.

Grandeau dismissed the charges of a personal vendetta, noting that all five board members, appointed by Republican and Democratic legislative leaders, believed Tuesday there was enough evidence against the Vacco firm to hold a hearing in June.

Intermediate string overflow Cannot justify line Vacco's firm more than a year ago had agreed to pay the state $50,000 to drop the probe. The firm admitted no wrongdoing. The money was never paid, and the state lobbying agency continued its investigation.

Vacco, a former United States attorney for Western New York who lost to Eliot L. Spitzer in the 1998 campaign for state attorney general, represents an array of clients in Albany, including Delaware North Cos., a library association, cable television companies, school administrators and a group vying to win a lucrative thoroughbred racing franchise.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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