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Paterson, builders defend selection in Aqueduct casino plan

With criticism mounting for a proposed video gaming casino project at Aqueduct Race Track, Gov. David A. Paterson and the proposed builders are moving to show the selection process was above board and that the Queens project featuring some 3,000 video machines should go forward.

Hoping to prove the selection process was fair, Paterson on Tuesday released hundreds of documents relating to the Aqueduct award, not only from the winning bidder, Aqueduct Entertainment Group, but from the losing bidders.

According to news accounts, federal and state investigators are reportedly looking at how AEG - which includes the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former congressman from Queens, as a partner in the bid - was selected Jan. 29 to build and operate a newly developed video casino at the longtime racetrack.

Critics have raised questions about Flake's involvement with Paterson and another AEG partner, Darryl Greene of the Darman Group, who earlier this month stepped aside amid disclosures of his criminal background so the winning bid could go forward.

But Paterson spokesman Morgan Hooks said Wednesday that the deal with AEG "has never been worthy of controversy."

Hooks noted that the bid award was made jointly by Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson of Brooklyn.

Hooks said that "everything" related to the bidding received by the governor had now been released and showed no improprieties. "You can't criticize the governor for following the law," Hooks said.

Among the critics of the AEG selection process is state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who called for a bipartisan hearing next month on the matter.

"Since the selection process was conducted in secret, finding out answers to these questions and concerns can only be done at a public hearing," Skelos said in a statement.

In releasing the documents Tuesday, Paterson said AEG was "at or near the top" in all the categories considered by state officials, including the ability to build a new permanent gaming facility in the fastest time, plans to hire workers from the nearby community, and agreeing to the largest payouts to the state. In its winning bids, AEG says it will provide between $146 million and $222 million in added tax revenue to the state by next year, though critics have questioned those estimates.

AEG spokesman Ken Frydman said the consortium has been "fully transparent" in releasing all its documents related to the winning bid. He said none of the partners in the bid had been contacted by federal investigators.

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