The FBI is probing the business dealings of Halfmoon-based developer Bruce Tanski in connection with at least two major housing projects his company has in the town of Brunswick.
The federal probe began at least several months ago and initially focused on construction material — topsoil — that was trucked from one of Tanski’s Brunswick construction sites to the 1,200-acre dairy farm of town Supervisor Phil Herrington. The Brunswick Town Board, including Herrington, voted several years ago to approve the residential housing project off Hoosick Street.
It’s at least the second time federal agents have investigated Tanski since 2013.
FBI agents also are reviewing flight records for a private plane that Tanski either owns or leases that is kept at the Schenectady County Airport, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
Tanski last week referred questions to his attorney, William J. Dreyer of Albany, who declined to comment.
Tanski’s two-phase housing project in Brunswick — The Ridge and The Summit at Duncan Meadows — is a mix of single-family residences and apartments. Fill from The Ridge project site was trucked to Herrington’s farm off Tamarac Road. Herrington runs a topsoil and mulch business there, in addition to farming.
The material was trucked by Kingsley Arms Construction of Brunswick, which was hired by Tanski to handle excavation work on the project. Dick Bayly, whose family runs the company, said he was questioned by the FBI about the material and that he told them it was basically worthless.
“They told me not to talk to anybody about it,” said Bayly, whose younger brother, Robert, is a Rensselaer County legislator and also works for the company. “It was full of rock and shale, and it really wasn’t of any real value. … The farm was a good spot.”
In recent weeks, multiple contractors who worked on Tanski’s Brunswick projects have been interviewed by FBI agents.
Herrington, who has been Brunswick’s town supervisor since 1998 and a member of the Town Board since 1989, did not respond to a request for comment last month. He referred the request to his attorney, Thomas A. Capezza, a former assistant U.S. attorney and former general counsel for the State Police. Capezza declined to discuss the probe but provided a statement on Herrington’s behalf.
“Philip Herrington is proud of his decades of public service and stands by his voting record as town supervisor, as he has consistently voted in the best interests of the Town of Brunswick and its residents,” Capezza said. “Mr. Herrington is a lifelong resident of the community, and is entirely devoted to the well-being of that community.”
It’s unclear whether the FBI’s investigation is still focusing on the fill that Herrington received from Tanski’s project. In recent weeks, subcontractors who have done work for Tanski’s company, Bruce Tanski Construction & Development, have been interviewed or served with federal grand jury subpoenas by FBI agents, according to people familiar with the matter.
Tanski is a politically active developer who has given tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations through the years — mostly to Saratoga County Republicans. He has also been the largest campaign contributor to state Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, who has described Tanski as a close friend. A spokesman for Marchione on Wednesday said the senator has “never flown on any aircraft owned or leased by Bruce Tanski, either as a senator, or before she was elected senator.”
In 2014, following a two-year investigation by the FBI and state attorney general’s office, Tanski pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in Saratoga County and admitted using six accomplices, including his employees, to conceal large political donations to a former Halfmoon supervisor.
That same investigation resulted in the conviction of the former supervisor, Melinda Wormuth, on state and federal felony crimes of taking bribes and using campaign funds for personal expenses. Wormuth was sentenced in 2015 to a year and a day in federal prison, and received a 10-month jail sentence for her state crimes.
Tanski received a sentence of three years probation, 200 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine.
Following his conviction, Tanski scaled back political donations made in his name and has used various limited liability companies — usually for housing and apartment projects he owns — to make large campaign donations. A loophole in state election law allows individuals who control LLCs to multiply the force of their political donations to candidates and campaign funds.
Seven months ago, an LLC called The Ridge at Duncan Meadows, which is named after Tanski’s residential project in Brunswick, made a $1,000 donation to the Friends of Phil Herrington campaign fund, according to records on file with the state Board of Elections. The LLC carries the address of Tanski’s construction company on Cemetery Road in Halfmoon. The donation to the Brunswick supervisor’s campaign fund is the only one the LLC has made, according to the records.
In prior interviews with the Times Union, Tanski has said he supports political candidates who foster interests in business and economic development, and that he does not believe he has ever received preferential treatment on his multitude of development projects as a result of a campaign donation.
In the Halfmoon case, the FBI’s probe also examined a $50,000 payment that Wormuth and her husband received from Tanski that he described as a loan that was later paid back. The loan was made at a time when Wormuth was supervisor and Tanski had projects before the town. Wormuth, who was released from federal prison last year and has remained out of the public gaze, did not disclose the payment to other town officials or the public.
Tanski was never accused of wrongdoing in connection with the loan to Wormuth’s husband.
The FBI’s investigation of Wormuth and other political figures in Halfmoon was prompted by a series of articles in the Times Union that raised questions about Wormuth’s private land deals and connections to developers.
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