A once-powerful Democratic political consultant pleaded guilty Monday to a felony securities-fraud charge and admitted that he played a central role in an influence-peddling scandal that shook the state's massive pension fund.
"I intentionally engaged in fraud, deception [and] concealment," Henry "Hank" Morris said, his voice low but steady as he admitted being at the fulcrum of the pay-to-play scheme at the $125 billion retirement pool, one of the world's largest government pension funds.
Morris acknowledged using his ties to former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi to get millions of dollars in payouts for himself, to channel money to cronies and to solicit campaign contributions for Hevesi from firms seeking state business.
Essentially, Morris acted as an expensive go-between for firms seeking a piece of the state pension fund investment pie: They were told that their chances of sealing multimillion-dollar deals would improve if they paid "placement" fees to him or certain others, prosecutors said.
Hevesi and the retirement fund's former chief investment officer, David Loglisci, then approved investments "in part so as to generate fees to me or others known to me because of my relationship with Alan Hevesi," Morris said.
Morris, 57, faces the possibility of up to four years in prison at his sentencing, set for Feb. 1, but he could also get probation only. Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Lewis Bart Stone said he hadn't yet decided on an appropriate sentence in a case that "involves a question of very high public policy and public concern." Morris also agreed to forfeit $19 million in gains from the scheme, and he'll be banned for life from the securities industry in New York and from doing business with the state.
"Morris personified pay-to-play corruption," state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. Morris and his lawyers declined to comment as they left court.
The plea wraps up a major piece of the case before Cuomo, a Democrat and New York's governor-elect, moves on to his new office in January.