05/05/2004 11:00PM

Former NYRA brass plead guilty

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Two former employees of the New York Racing Association's mutuel department pleaded guilty on Thursday in federal court to charges that they conspired to defraud the government.

Vincent Hogan, NYRA's director of mutuels from 1998 to 2002, and Clem Imperato, NYRA's vice president of mutuels from 1988 to 1996, entered the pleas in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, N.Y. Hogan and Imperato are scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 10 and face maximum sentences of five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and restitution.

Hogan and Imperato were charged in an indictment released Dec. 11, 2003, by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. The indictment alleged that NYRA officials were aware that mutuel tellers were claiming fraudulent shortages in their cash drawers in order to lower their taxable income.

Prosecutors said that from 1994 to 1999 NYRA mutuel tellers had deducted $8 million in bogus claims on their income tax returns. After NYRA issued a warning about the deductions in 2000, the claims dropped to $34,000 during the calendar year.

Hogan and Imperato "falsely certified that the amounts returned by the mutuel employees to NYRA were reimbursements for account shortages, fully aware that the shortages included bogus shorts . . . to support false tax deductions," the U.S. Attorney's office claimed.

The New York Racing Association itself was named in the Dec. 11 indictment, but the association escaped criminal charges by paying a $3 million fine and agreeing to a court-ordered monitor.

The indictment also charged four NYRA mutuel tellers with tax fraud. The tellers have since pleaded guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced later this year. In total, 21 mutuel tellers at NYRA have pleaded guilty to similar charges of defrauding the government over the past three years.

All of the mutuel tellers were members of a division of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Hogan was also charged with making improper payments to an unidentified union official.

Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office, said that he did not know if the unidentified union official would be charged. Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Hruska said in a statement that the investigation is continuing.