Bruno facing new indictment
Corruption counts mirror 2009 case
ALBANY Former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno was re-indicted Thursday on federal charges that he took bribes and kickbacks from an Albany businessman who wanted to influence state business.
Bruno was indicted on two counts of honest services fraud, reviving a case the government first brought against the once-powerful Republican in 2009, after a three-year FBI investigation.
Bruno’s two 2009 convictions were overturned by an appeals court last November. Bruno was re-indicted on those charges, which allege he received $440,000 from Albany businessman Jared Abbruzzese between 2004 and 2006 and that the payments were “bribes and kickbacks.”
During a brief arraignment before Magistrate Judge David R. Homer, the 83-year-old Rensselaer County resident pleaded innocent through attorney William J. Dreyer. Bruno did not speak in court.
Prosecutors said the “consulting” payments bought Abbruzzese undue influence with Bruno and unjustly enriched the senator. Defense attorneys denounced the charges as unfounded.
“There is no truth to what is in that indictment. There was no bribe, there was no kickback,” said E. Stewart Jones of Troy, another Bruno attorney.
The two-count indictment alleges Bruno carried out a scheme to defraud state residents of his honest services when he took payments from Abbruzzese.
“The payments gave the Albany businessman greater access to the New York Senate majority leader than was available to the other citizens of New York state,” prosecutors said in a statement. “In return for the payments, Bruno would and did perform official acts benefiting the interests of the Albany businessman.”
There was no overt testimony about a “quid pro quo” at Bruno’s first trial in 2009, but prosecutors said they had to prove only that Bruno had an undisclosed conflict of interest.
At that trial, Bruno faced eight counts charging that he received $3.2 million over a 14-year period from improper business consulting. A jury acquitted him on five counts, was hung on one count and convicted him only of two counts involving Abbruzzese.
Bruno appealed. Last November’s decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City dismissed the convictions because the U.S. Supreme Court had toughened the definitions of honest services fraud. But the decision allowed the government to present its case to a new grand jury, using the new legal standard, which requires proving that bribes and kickbacks were involved. And immediately after that decision, prosecutors said they would seek a new indictment.
“Based on the decision issued by the Second Circuit, a federal grand jury has returned a superseding indictment today charging Joseph L. Bruno with depriving New York of his honest services through bribery, kickbacks, and the exploitation of his official position for personal enrichment,” U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian said in a statement Thursday.
By law, a new indictment had to be presented within six months, a deadline that would have fallen in mid-May.
His attorneys blasted the indictment, calling it a “gross miscarriage of justice.”
“They have spent tens of millions of dollars, and for what? To harm an 83-year-old man who has done more for this region than anyone else,” said Jones, one of the Capital Region’s most prominent attorneys.
Before the scandal, Bruno was widely credited with providing state money for economic development projects in the Capital Region, including the initial money that paid for construction of the Luther Forest Technology Campus, where the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant is now located.
Asked whether Bruno was prepared to face another trial, Jones said: “He’s up for whatever clears his name.”
Prosecutors allege the payments from Abbruzzese were disguised as $20,000-per-month “consulting” fees from various companies Abbruzzese owned and in one case was hidden as the $80,000 sale price of what they allege was a virtually worthless racehorse.
The indictment claims Bruno did not perform legitimate consulting work for the money, and the horse payments were to make up for expected consulting payments that had been stopped.
In return for the payments, prosecutors claim Bruno directed the award of a $250,000 state grant to Evident Technologies Inc. in February 2004. Abbruzzese was a primary investor in the start-up technology company.
The indictment also points to Bruno’s recommending that an Abbruzzese business partner, Wayne Barr, be appointed to the board of the New York Racing Association in April 2004.
Prosecutors also accuse Bruno of directing the award of a $2.5 million grant to the Sage Colleges that benefited Evident Technologies.
Dreyer and Jones said the evidence appears to be identical to what was presented at the first trial, when bribes and kickbacks weren’t overtly alleged.
Bruno “has done nothing wrong and this indictment has no basis in fact,” Jones said outside the courthouse.
Assistant U.S. attorneys William C. Pericak and Elizabeth C. Coombe declined comment beyond the office’s written statement.
The new case will be heard by U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe, who presided over the first trial. Initially, the defense is expected to make a motion to dismiss the charges. Motions are due by May 31.
Bruno served in the state Senate from 1976 to 2008 and was the powerful Republican leader of the Senate from 1994 to 2008. He resigned in 2008 while under federal investigation.
Bruno didn’t testify at the first trial but held daily news conferences outside the courthouse to proclaim his innocence. On Thursday, he didn’t speak to reporters as he walked to a black Chevy Suburban double-parked in front of the courthouse.
Dreyer said Bruno didn’t talk to reporters because “he’s doing what his lawyers tell him to do.”
Bruno, who has served no jail time since he was first indicted in January 2009, was allowed to remain free without bail after Thursday’s arraignment.