By Connor Adams Sheets
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said Tuesday he has planned since shortly after Richard Lipsky turned himself in to authorities March 10 on corruption charges to donate to charity an amount equal to the $3,000 in campaign contributions the lobbyist made to his 2010 campaign. Avella said he has also cut off all contact with Lipsky and suggests others do the same.
For the two years before his federal indictment, Lipsky was one of the most prominent voices in defending Willets Point United, a coalition of small business and property owners in Willets Point who have sought to fight the city’s plans to replace the 62-acre district of auto repair shops and factories with a $3 billion development project.
Lipsky built a sizable lobbying clientele by working to protect small businesses from big-box stores, eminent domain and other woes.
Willets Point United is the only company to retain his services. After he turned himself in, he was fired by all his other clients, including the Partnership for New York; the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; the Red Apple Group; and Forest City Ratner Cos.
Avella and Lipsky publicly worked together as recently as Feb. 10, when they both spoke alongside members of Willets Point United at a rally against the proposed redevelopment of the Iron Triangle.
“He was the person to represent the small business community throughout the entire city. Every lobbyist has some kind of niche and whenever there was a fight protecting small businesses he was usually the lobbyist for those groups,” Avella said in an interview. “I consider myself — and I think my record shows that I am — a supporter of small business and the community, and that’s how we came in contact.”
Avella said he was “shocked” when he learned last month that the 63-year-old was indicted in a corruption and money laundering conspiracy.
“I told people that may have Lipsky on their payroll that he may under no circumstances contact my office or come to my office,” Avella said. “We will have no contact with the individual. And my recommendation is for any group that had hired him as a lobbyist to let him go.”
Avella went further, saying that after an “interesting philosophical debate” he determined that the best way to handle the $3,000 Lipsky donated to his campaign on June 17, 2010, would be to donate it to charity. He has already spent the money raised during his 2010 campaign for the Senate, so he said he will eventually donate $3,000 of campaign contributions to his 2013 campaign fund to a charity in order to offset the amount he got from Lipsky.
“My first reaction is if I give it back to him, then it goes to his legal defense fund. So what I decided to do is over time when we raise the money for my upcoming campaign, we will donate the same amount that he donated to my 2010 campaign to a charity,” he said. “You can’t give it back to them. What, are you going to give it back to the crook?”
Lipsky turned himself in to authorities March 10 in connection with a federal corruption probe alleging that he indirectly injected lobbying fees totaling $252,000 into an account accessible by Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) in hopes of encouraging him to take official actions to benefit Lipsky’s clients. He was released the same day on his own recognizance.
An e-mail sent out by Linda Serrone at the Bayside Queens Blog expressed concern about Lipsky having donated money to Avella’s 2010 campaign.
“After completing research we have learned from State Records that Senator Avella has in fact taken bundles of campaign cash from indicted lobbyist Richard Lipsky,” the e-mail read. “Pay it back Tony or you are no better!”
Staff at Avella’s office and TimesLedger Newspapers could not find Serrone and she did not respond to an e-mail inquiryï»¿.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.