As if the debate over the legalization of mixed martial arts in New York weren’t bizarre enough, today a former official in the small town of Halfmoon, New York, pled guilty to two felony counts resulting from her role as an illegal lobbyist for the sport. Federal prosecutors argued that between April and August 2013 Melinda Wormuth accepted bribes in return for using her official position as town supervisor and a member of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors to advocate for the legalization of MMA in New York, the only state in the country where the sport is still illegal.
Conspiracy buffs who at this moment are joyously jumping to the conclusion that the source of those bribes must have been the UFC or Bellator or the board of directors at Madison Square Garden or Reebok or some other corporation sure to profit from the arrival of legalized MMA in New York can take comfort knowing that the actual culprit was much more shadowy and devious: their government. Wormouth was busted as part of an elaborate sting orchestrated by a federal-state anti-corruption task force that included the FBI, the New York Attorney General’s Office, the New York Comptroller’s Office, and—wait for it—the Internal Revenue Service.
According to court records, the FBI’s goal in setting up the sting was to test Wormuth’s “willingness to obtain money from constituents and/or business owners in return for an official act” following indications that she had engaged in prior suspicious business dealings. Their interest piqued by $50,000 paid by one prominent developer to Wormuth (who promptly transferred it to an account held by her husband’s business) and her questionable sale of two properties at an “inflated price” to another, the FBI sent an undercover informant with connections to the Albany boxing scene to offer the town supervisor a role as a “consultant” to promote pro-MMA legislation. After initially turning down the offer, Wormuth reconsidered and on April 23, 2013, she accepted $2500 in cash from the informant—the first installment of what would eventually total $7500 in “consulting fees.”
A week later Wormuth wrote letters lobbying for MMA on her official town letterhead to a state assemblyman, a state senator, and then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. And on May 21 she wrote letters to several more assembly members, this time on her county board of supervisors letterhead, a violation of the county’s ethics laws.
In June Wormuth met with “Vivian,” an undercover FBI employee posing as the Las Vegas-based backer of Wormuth’s MMA lobbying efforts, who asked Wormuth if she could convince the board of supervisors to pass a pro-legalization resolution. Wormuth said she could. She also told Vivian “she intended to set up a lunch meeting with the assistant to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for the purpose of discussing support for MMA," according to the FBI affidavit.
A grand jury indicted Wormuth in October 2013 on charges of extortion and making a false statement before a federal judge. Today she pled guilty on both counts. Federal prosecutors say she could get 12 months in prison. She is also expected to forfeit the money she received and will be fined $7500. Sentencing is set for December 10 in Albany.
As for where the $7500 went, Wormuth told the FBI she “just spent it on lunches, clothes and personal items.”
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