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Assembly Speaker Mel Miller Guilty of Fraud

December 14, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ The speaker of the New York state Assembly was convicted of federal fraud charges, complicating Gov. Mario Cuomo’s consideration of a presidential run and ending the career of the Legislature’s top Democrat.

″It’s over,″ Mel Miller said outside the courtroom minutes after the verdict Friday. ″Even, God willing, we get a reversal, for practical purposes it’s time for new leadership to take over.″

Miller appeared pale and shaken, his head bowed, as the verdict was returned during the sixth day of deliberations in federal court.

Felony conviction means automatic expulsion from the Legislature, where Miller has served for 21 years, the past five as Democratic leader.

Cuomo, struggling with state Republicans over stalled budget negotiations complicated by the conviction, said he will put consideration of running for president on the back burner.

″Forget about the presidency,″ he said after failing to reach agreement with state Republicans on Medicaid cuts Friday night, just after word of Miller’s conviction. ″That’s the least of our concerns right now. That’s not relevant here.″

Cuomo and Miller had been trying to sell the state Senate’s Republican majority on a 15-month budget deal.

The conviction of the 52-year-old son of a Brooklyn milk truck driver, known as a strong voice on liberal issues, means Democrats in the Assembly will have to choose a new speaker. Cuomo must call a special election to fill Miller’s Assembly seat.

The government’s case against Miller didn’t concern his political activities but three real estate deals he and his law partner, Jay Adolf, were involved in during the cooperative-apartment conversion boom in the 1980s.

Adolf, who was Miller’s chief aide in Albany, was also convicted.

Miller and Adolf were charged a year ago with swindling clients out of about $300,000 by withholding information, duping them into paying exorbitant fees and hiding their investments in apartment buildings, prosecutors said.

Both were convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy and using false names in documents on a number of real estate transactions. Each charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Defense lawyer Gerald B. Lefcourt said he would appeal.

The defendants maintained they were innocent and were targeted because of Miller’s influential position in the Legislature.

Defense lawyers denied the defendants did anything illegal and maintained Miller and Adolf were dupes of another business partner, Avi Cohen, who testified for the government under a broad grant of immunity from prosecution.

U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie who presided over the trial did not immediately set a date for sentencing. The defendants remained free on their own recognizance.

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