By Stephen Stirling
Empire Racing Associates announced in a statement on its Web site dated Dec. 26 that it had reached a mutual agreement with Abbruzzese to repurchase his 6 percent holding in the firm, citing “a distraction created by inquiries into activities unrelated to the company.”Empire Racing is widely considered to be one of the top three bidders vying for control of the state's racetracks – Aqueduct in Ozone Park, Belmont in Elmont, L.I., and Saratoga Racecourse in Saratoga.Abbruzzese is currently being investigated by the State Lobbying Commission for flights he provided to Bruno on his private jet, authorities said. Abbruzzese has long been involved in horse racing and is no stranger to the state's Republican Party, doling out more than $60,000 in campaign contributions to the state party and its candidates since 2000, according to campaign finance records. The contributions include $2,500 given to Bruno and $25,000 to Gov. George Pataki for their 2002 re-election campaigns, the records show.In 2004, Abbruzzese co-founded Friends of New York Racing, a lobbying firm that released a report in June 2005 urging the state to consider new ownership of the tracks. Earlier this year, Friends of New York Racing disbanded and Abbruzzese joined other investors in forming Empire Racing.Earlier this month federal officials launched an investigation into Bruno amid reports that his business dealings with Abbruzzese were the main focus.Bruno said bluntly at a hastily called press conference Dec. 19 that he did not know what the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District, which is conducting the inquiry, was investigating, but he wanted to be forthright about the situation.”My style is to be open and honest. When it was brought to my attention that the inquiry had been leaked to the media, I wanted to be upfront and assure that I have nothing to hide and avoid speculation, distortions or unfounded rumors,” Bruno said.Bruno, who is the state's most powerful Republican now that former Gov. George Pataki has left office, also has recently come under fire for giving a $500,000 member item grant to Evident Technologies, a private company in his district which Abbruzzese co-founded.As senate majority leader, Bruno will have a say in who gets control of the tracks when the NYRA's contract expires at the end of 2007.Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 229-0300, Ext. 162.