Thompson Holds News Conference on 'Pay to Play' Allegations

October 22, 2010 Updated Oct 22, 2010 at 6:52 PM EDT

By John Borsa

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October 22, 2010 Updated Oct 22, 2010 at 6:52 PM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) -- With just 11 days before Election Day, State Senator Antoine Thompson (D-Buffalo) held a news conference on the steps outside of his downtown Buffalo office to defend his record and insist he had no knowledge of an alleged "pay to play" scheme that is rocking the Capital.

"Upon finding out that I was in the report and there were some contributions that were related to AEG, I said I would return the money," Thompson said, surrounded by a dozen supporters who opened the news conference with a prayer.

Thompson received $8,600 from Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG) in 2009 and 2010, according the report released on Thursday. AEG made the donation at the direction of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, of which Thompson is a co-chairman.

AEG was attempting to secure a lucrative state contract to operate a video slot machine casino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. The contract was potentially worth billions of dollars and required an upfront payment to the state.

Inspector General Joseph Fisch, in his report, accused Senate Majority Leader John Sampson of leaking key information to AEG to help the company win the bid.

Other top state Democratic leaders are also named in the report, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate President Pro Tempore Malcolm Smith and Governor David Paterson.

AEG was awarded the contract, despite offering $100 million less than the next closest competitor and even though AEG could not qualify for a state gaming license, the report said.

Buffalo-based Delaware North had previously been awarded the gaming contract for Aqueduct, but was later removed from the project by state officials when the company could not come up with the $370 million upfront payment during the global credit crunch.

Thompson is being challenged this election season by Republican Mark Grisanti, who on Friday asked Senator Thompson to resign.

"I think he's lost the trust of the people of the 60th District," said Grisanti in a late Friday afternoon news conference.

"Some people are going to try to spin it - but the fact of the matter is there was a gentleman who spent eight months on a report who clearly stated that I had no involvement whatsoever," Thompson said.