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Sampson gave casino details to lobbyist<br> Disclosed details about Aqueduct project bids

ALBANY — The State Senate's top Democrat acknowledged Friday that he turned over details about bids for a big downstate casino project to a lobbyist for the politically connected consortium later picked for the project.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson said he did nothing illegal or unethical in leaking the documents about competitors to Carl Andrews, a former state senator who represented Aqueduct Entertainment Group.

AEG was selected for the casino at Aqueduct racetrack in Queens over several other bidders, including Buffalo's Delaware North Cos. The Paterson administration later dropped AEG after the selection process became the subject of a federal and state inquiry.

Sampson said he volunteered the information about the documents given to Andrews to the state Inspector General's Office, which is looking at the now-scuttled casino process. A new bidding round has begun again with several interested groups, including Delaware North.

Aides to Sampson provided reporters the documents, dating back to last September and November, showing a variety of financial details by the five bidding groups. Sampson insisted there was nothing confidential about the memos, one of which was sent to all the members of the Senate Democratic Conference.

"It's disheartening, at times, when you're working as hard as you can to do what you can, and then there's innuendo and allegations that you're in a corner, doing things that are unethical or criminal," Sampson said during a meeting in a Senate conference room. The New York Post first reported the matter Friday.

Sampson said he and Andrews last November were having an argument over AEG's bid after Andrews heard that the Senate was no longer considering the group's offer. The senator said he provided the documents to Andrews to show that the lobbyist's claims were wrong and that the other bidders were offering better financial packages for the state.

Though Sampson maintained the documents were public, the Senate never publicly released the documents last fall. And Sampson said he did not give the information to other lobbyists but said he saw no reason why he would not have if anyone had asked.

It is uncertain what, if anything, could

come of the latest swirl around the previous bidding process for the long-stalled Aqueduct casino project, which was legalized along with other racetrack gambling halls back in 2001. The Inspector General's Office has jurisdiction over executive branch agencies, not the Legislature.

Gov. David A. Paterson recently began a more transparent bidding process for the casino, with firm scoring points and timelines and a $300 million minimum upfront franchise fee payment to the state being demanded of all bids. The previous process was criticized for bidding terms that changed often during deliberations.

At first, Sampson said he gave Andrews one 15-page document— which he called "just a memo." Aides later corrected him to say he provided Andrews another document dated Nov. 12.

Delaware North won a previous round of bidding back in 2008 for the casino project. That deal was scuttled when the Buffalo company was unable to raise $370 million in an upfront fee for the state.

Shelley Mayer, chief counsel to the Senate Democrats, said she is confident nothing "even close to illegal" was done by Sampson in giving the documents to Andrews.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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