Ex-casino worker eludes jail time for rigging contests

An ex-manager at Empire City Casino will serve no jail time for rigging promotional cash giveaways for kickbacks at the racetrack casino.

Donna Cronin had agreed on March 2 to serve six months in jail as part of a five-year “shock” probation sentence. But a judge this morning sentneced her to serve 250 hours of community service during her five-year probation and repay the $100,000 she stole. She also must undergo random drug testing and, if ordered by probation, psychological counseling.

“Go out of here and see what you can do to get a job,” acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Moles told Cronin, who is unemployed.

Molea said he was swayed by numerous “sincere and compelling” letters from Cronin’s friends and family urging him to not send her to jail. The letters, he said, told of a childhood so chaotic that the judge credited her and her sisters for surviving it.

Cronin, who now lives in Staten Island, apologized to the judge for her actions and was hugged by family members and friends after the sentencing. Two of her supporters wept with relief when they learned she would not be going to jail.

Cronin, a former Yonkers resident, was the casino’s promotions manager and was accused of orchestrating the scam from Dec. 21, 2006, through Aug. 19, 2008. She was arrested with former promotions coordinators Alicia Murray of the Bronx and Terence Osborne of Yonkers. All three entered guilty pleas.

Cronin pleaded to felony charges of second- and fourth-degree grand larceny and scheme to defraud. The top charge against her involved some 75 incidents of larceny, prosecutors said.

Murray, 32, is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 28. She agreed to serve five years of probation, with eight weekends in the county jail, for stealing $30,688. Osborne, 25, is serving five years’ probation and was ordered to repay $16,049.

According to prosecutors, the three ran a scam to let friends and relatives win promotional contests from December 2006 through August 2008. They told the selected “winners” to be at certain slot machines in the casino while the drawings were held.

They would then rig the contests so the chosen few would win cash, electronic equipment, hotel stays and Broadway tickets. On many of these occasions, the workers got kickbacks — mostly in cash, it was alleged. Players not in on the scheme had no chance of winning the prizes, prosecutors said.

The rigged contests never compromised the casino’s video slot machines, authorities said.

After the investigation began, the New York Lottery ordered Empire City to bring in a consultant to review internal controls and management practices, Lottery director Gordon Medenica said. A consulting firm for the gambling industry monitored Empire City’s major promotional drawings starting Jan. 1, 2009, and reported its findings to state Lottery officials. Medenica said Empire City implemented every recommendation made by the consulting firm.

Maybe rum punch, too?

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Molea had a fantastic suggestion for beating the heat in his courtroom today, even if he was only kidding. I’m not talking about beating the heat of criminal prosecution here, but about it being 81 degrees (!) in his third-floor courtroom this morning.

“We’re going to serve pina coladas,” Molea said, causing a few lawyers to chuckle. But I thought … frozen drinks certainly would lubricate the wheels of justice, wouldn’t it? It would give new meaning to “passing the bar.”  And it certainly would make those long court calendar days a much more pleasant experience.

While it was roasting in the courtroom, there was no fire, even though dozens of members of the Yonkers Fire Department were present, They came en mass to stare down Rafael Roldan, who is charged with setting a revenge fire in a multi-family house that killed Yonkers firefighter Patrick Joyce. Roldan, 33, faces a six-count felony indictment that includes second-degree murder, second-degree arson, first-degree assault, second-degree burglary and second-degree criminal mischief.

Roldan is due back in court April 22. And that’s no joking matter.

Double-dipping judges

My colleague Jonathan Bandler has an amazing story in today’s paper about how the law allows judges to retire and collect pension while remaining on the bench and collecting a salary. This gives them annual income of more than $200,000, and a loophole around the 11-year wage freeze for state and county judges.

Click here to read more about the completely legal double dipping.

Rate your judge on “Robe Probe”

There’s a website called Robeprobe.com, and if enough attorneys and their clients in the Lower Hudson Valley find out about this, things could get very interesting.

Basically, it’s a rating system for judges at all levels, from U.S. Supreme down to municipal judges. Even judges from other countries are listed.  Billing itself as “the world’s most trusted judge rating site” (like there are so many others), the site’s search engine asks you to choose the jurisdiction (state, county, municipal, appellate, etc.) then type in the name of the judge and give them one to 5 stars. If your judge isn’t listed, you can add him/her to the list.

I typed in a few names of judges from Westchester County. The only ones who were listed were State Supreme Court Justices Lester Adler and Richard Molea, and county Judge Barbara Zambelli. Judge Francis Nicolai, the court administrator for the 9th Judicial District, was listed, as was Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman – the top judge in New York state.

No one has rated them yet, so if you’re so inclined, you know where to find them.

Logo courtesy of RobeProbe.com