NEW YORK — A once-powerful Democratic political consultant pleaded guilty yesterday to a felony securities-fraud charge and admitted 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, 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 faces the possibility of up to four years in prison at his sentencing, set for Feb. 1, though he could also get probation. Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Lewis Bart Stone said he hadn’t decided on a 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 declined to comment as he left court.
Hevesi, Loglisci, and five other officials, political figures, and investment advisers have pleaded guilty in Cuomo’s investigation into the pension fund. A number of investment executives and firms that haven’t admitted any criminal responsibility have nonetheless paid millions of dollars in penalties.