The Albany Times Union by BRENDAN J. LYONS AND JAMES M. ODATO - January 23, 2009
Bruno pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in U.S. District Court in Albany and was released without bail. In a 35-page indictment filed at noon, grand jurors asked Bruno to forfeit much of his fortune and assets for his alleged crimes. Bruno, who reigned for years as one of the most powerful lawmakers in New York, is charged with using his office to deprive the public of the honest services of government. The indictment marks the culmination of a three-year FBI investigation into the shadowy public and private dealings of the Brunswick politician who rose through the ranks of state government and became arguably the Capital Region's most iconic political leader. Bruno retired from his state Senate seat in July after 32 years in legislative service. He is now a lobbyist, chief executive of friend Kay Stafford's Latham company, CMA Consulting.
The indictment lays out Bruno's alleged deceptions, such as not disclosing his dealings to ethics authorities. It describes "schemes" involving use of his public office to do business with labor unions, who he steered to Wright Investors Service, a Connecticut firm that paid him nearly $1.4 million from 1994 to 2006, and McGinn, Smith & Co., an Albany investment firm that paid Bruno $632,116 from 1993 to 2005. The firms ended up receiving investment advisory fees or brokerage fees paid by the union benefit funds. People named in the indictment were Bruno's friends Leonard J. Fassler, Jared E. Abbruzzese and Russell C. Ball who paid Bruno hundreds of thousands of dollars for alleged consulting services, even though Bruno provided virtually no consulting. Only Bruno was charged, although the actions of his associates were unflattering.
In one case, Abbruzzese paid Bruno $80,000 for a nearly worthless horse raised by Bruno at his thoroughbred breeding business at his farm and home in Brunswick. The investigation had dogged Bruno during the last two years of his political career as information surfaced publicly about the FBI's deep foray into his real-estate dealings, investments, political decisions and his ownership and breeding of thoroughbred horses. The ''honest services'' provision of federal statutes has been used repeatedly by federal prosecutors to take down some of the nation's corrupt government officials and lobbyists. The broadly written law, which was inserted into federal statutes 20 years ago by Congress, prohibits public officials from using the mail or interstate communications to deprive the public of an inherent "right to honest services." Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio of Queens is awaiting trial under a similar indictment.
The law has become a favored weapon of many prosecutors because it does not require a quid pro quo, which is often difficult to prove in the world of pay-to-play politics where multimillion-dollar deals and campaign fund payoffs are known to be arranged with winks and nods. Bruno maintained that the federal prosecutors invented a crime to stick on him while letting former Gov. Eliot Spitzer off the hook for what Bruno called admitted felonies. The former Democratic governor, a foe of Bruno, resigned in 2008 after he was identified as a patron of an expensive call-girl service. "This is not the first time we have seen deeply flawed, dysfunctional or even illegal behavior by those with prosecutorial power," Bruno said. He said looks forward to a public trial. The investigation began three years ago, when FBI agents from a white-collar crime unit in Albany began examining a series of private jet flights provided to Bruno by people with whom he did business both politically and privately, a source close to the case said. The chartered jet flights, in some cases worth thousands of dollars per hour, ferried Bruno to private vacations in South Florida, political fundraisers, government functions and at least once to Kentucky horse country.
The FBI's interest in the flights was triggered, in part, by a related inquiry by the state's now-defunct lobbying commission, according to a source familiar with the investigation, and focused on Abbruzzese, a Loundonville businessman, race horse enthusiast and jet owner. The FBI's examination quickly expanded and agents began sifting through bank records related to a private consulting firm Bruno ran from his Brunswick home. The hundreds of thousands of dollars that Bruno was paid through that firm serve as the foundation of many of the counts listed in the indictment.
******** BLOOMBERG NEWS REPORT:
Former N.Y. Senate Leader Bruno Charged With Fraud
Bloomberg News by Martin Z. Braun - January 23, 2009
Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Joseph Bruno, the former leader of the New York State Senate, was indicted on federal corruption charges. Bruno, a Republican who retired last year after almost 32 years as a state lawmaker representing Rensselaer and Saratoga counties, failed to disclose he was paid more than $2 million to solicit union pension funds on behalf of two brokers, according to an eight-count indictment unsealed in Albany. He is also accused of lobbying for three individuals pursuing state business, receiving $1.2 million. The indictment said Bruno exploited “his official position for personal compensation and enrichment, knowing and believing that his reasonably perceived ability to influence official action would, at least in part, motivate those he contacted to enter into financial relationships beneficial to his personal financial interests.”
‘Been the Target’
“I have been the target of a “Get Joe Bruno Campaign,’” Bruno said in a statement issued after he was indicted. Bruno said a jury will find him innocent and politically motivated federal prosecutors overreached in their accusations. Charges that he defrauded the state and citizens of their right to his “honest services” will send “a frightening message to all elected officials who are not wealthy.” Lawmakers could “become target practice with a statute that can infer, insinuate, and imply because they can’t find the facts to make a criminal case.” Bruno, 79, disclosed in December 2006 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was probing his private business dealings. At a June 2008 press conference in Albany, Bruno said he was retiring and the probe wasn’t part of his decision. “I’ve never been accused of anything and don’t expect to be,” Bruno said. “I’ve never done anything wrong.”
Since selling a telecommunications business in 1990 he helped found, Bruno worked with Capital Business Consultants of Albany, offering business development and strategy advice. From the Senate, Bruno guided state government along with Sheldon Silver of Manhattan, the Democratic leader of the Assembly, and former Governor George Pataki, a Republican whose 12-year tenure ended in 2006. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law ranked the Legislature as the most dysfunctional in the U.S. during a four-year period ending in 2004. To contact the reporters on this story: Martin Z. Braun in New York at email@example.com.
To Read the Indictment CLICK HERE