New trial to begin in December for Bruno
Updated 8:32 p.m.
ALBANY Former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno’s second trial on charges of honest services fraud has been set for early December in Albany, even as his defense team continue to challenge the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling against their double jeopardy argument.
U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe set the trial for Dec. 2. Sharpe also ordered a final pretrial conference in the case Nov. 25, according to court documents filed Monday.
The trial date was set as Bruno’s defense team continues to contend the case can’t be tried a second time. Last month, attorneys for the former Republican state senator indicated they intend to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case, while simultaneously bringing it before all the justices of the 2nd Circuit of the Court of Appeals in an attempt to spur a review.
If the full 2nd Circuit agrees to review the earlier ruling, Bruno’s lawyers said they’ll seek to stay the 84-year-old Bruno’s trial in U.S. District Court for Northern New York. E. Stewart Jones said the trial date set by Sharpe is earlier than he anticipated and “creates some urgency” in the appeals process.
“We’re still going to press forward, and if we’re successful in getting permission, then we’ll ask the appellate court to stay the trial,” he said Tuesday.
In 2009, Bruno was found guilty by a jury on two charges of honest services fraud on allegations he had undisclosed conflicts of interest while serving in the Senate, including accepting money from friends who had business pending before state government. He was ordered to serve two years in prison but was allowed to remain free as he pursued his appeals.
The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently redefined the honest services fraud law to require proof of bribery or kickbacks. This allowed the 2nd Circuit to void Bruno’s convictions because it did not involve such proof.
But federal prosecutors obtained a new indictment in May 2012, alleging Bruno received a total of $440,000 in payments from businessman Jared Abbruzzese between 2004 and 2006, including $80,000 in exchange for a “virtually worthless” horse. The government argues these payments — the same ones that led to Bruno’s conviction during his first trial — now meet the legal definition of a bribe or kickback.
Last month, Sharpe raised concerns about committing resources to a trial — namely impaneling a jury — without some kind of assurance it wouldn’t be stayed. He then advised both prosecutors and Bruno’s defense team to be prepared for trial within 60 days.
Jones said he originally hoped the trial date would be sometime in January. Still, he anticipates Bruno will be ready for trial by December.
“Obviously our continued belief is this indictment should fail and be dismissed,” he said. “If that is not the outcome, we’ll be ready to go.”