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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Music to Our Ears, NY Ethics on the Fed's Brain

Bruno probe focus on ethics opinions
FBI investigation looks at legislative panel's 10-year-old rulings
The Albany Times Union by BRENDAN J. LYONS - May 8, 2008

ALBANY -- An FBI investigation of Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno is focusing on several opinions he received more than a decade ago from the Legislative Ethics Commission that relate to his personal business ventures, including real estate development and horse breeding, the Times Union has learned. Two FBI agents hand-delivered a federal grand jury subpoena to the ethics commission staff about two months ago requesting copies of the opinions, which were promptly turned over, a person familiar with the matter said. Another person close to the investigation said federal authorities are closely examining the process by which Bruno may have received authorization from within state government for his various private business dealings.

Bruno, R-Brunswick, has sought at least four opinions from the commission, which was known as the Legislative Ethics Committee before being renamed last year. The opinions, which have never been made public, were issued more than 10 years ago in the early 1990s, the person familiar with the ethics rulings said. One of the opinions relates to First Grafton Corp., a secluded Rensselaer County development in which Bruno was a 25-percent investor. Bruno was a principal of First Grafton until 1992, when his investment in the development group was placed in a trust. That took place around the time he received an opinion from the ethics committee regarding his financial interest in the project, a source close to the committee said.

Another opinion Bruno received from the ethics committee was in connection with the senator's ownership of horses and business dealings with his friend, Columbia County veterinarian Jerry Bilinski. Bilinski is a former chairman of the Racing and Wagering Board, and a principal of Excelsior Racing Associates, which had bid on the franchise to run races at the three NYRA tracks. Two years ago, Bilinski also received a federal grand jury subpoena related to his horse ownership records as part of the investigation of Bruno. "I'd never seen anything treated with such importance as that was," said a person who was involved with the ethics committee's work in the Bilinski matter 12 years ago. "It was like a meeting of the war department."

The ethics commission was revamped last year as part of what state leaders said was a sweeping ethics reform bill. It is touted by those leaders as a bipartisan panel that provides lawmakers with opinions and clarifications about ethics rules. But its work is not subject to the state's Open Meetings or Freedom of Information laws. However, an individual lawmaker is free to publicly release any opinion he receives from the commission. Bruno's office declined to do so on Wednesday when asked by the Times Union. Melissa Ryan, executive director of the Legislative Ethics Commission, said she could not discuss details of opinions or disclose information about subpoenas received by the commission. "There is an investigation," Ryan said in a recent interview. "We've been fully cooperative with it, as has Senator Bruno's office."

In an interview on Wednesday, Ryan said she could not confirm her office's receipt of the federal subpoena two months ago. "I can't talk about any requests that are made in a specific case," she said. The FBI's review of the ethics' opinions comes as the federal investigation of Bruno is in its second year with no indication of whether any charges, or any action by a federal grand jury, will be forthcoming. In recent months there has been a new round of federal subpoenas in the investigation, according to people with knowledge of the investigation. Bruno's office declined on Wednesday to respond to questions about the investigation, including whether any Senate staffers have been subpoenaed. No one in the office would say how many staffers have retained attorneys or how those attorneys are being paid.

"We will respond when we are ready," said Mark Hansen, Bruno's spokesman. "You guys do whatever you are going to do, when you are going to do it. We just finished session and we are not going to answer you tonight." A person involved in the case said several "secretaries" for the Senate majority have retained counsel in recent months. Also, Francis Gluchowski, legislative counsel for the Senate majority, has retained Latham attorney Peter Moschetti in connection with the investigation, the person said. Gluchowski was formerly counsel to the legislative ethics panel and, in his position for the Senate majority's office, is heavily involved in crafting draft ethics opinions that are forwarded to the panel for consideration, according to people familiar with the process. Gluchowski and Moschetti did not respond to requests for comment. Bruno's attorney in the criminal investigation, William Dreyer, declined to comment for this article.

Dreyer's law firm has been paid more than $203,000 over the past two years from campaign funds connected to Bruno, records show. A 1989 state Board of Elections opinion holds that campaign funds may be used to pay legal expenses of public officers who are the target of a criminal investigation "if the criminal matter arises out of the campaign or the holding of public office." Bruno has publicly said that he has "followed the letter of the law" and has done nothing wrong. He confirmed the FBI probe in December 2006 but denied he was a target, even though his name has appeared at the top of several federal grand jury subpoenas. U.S. Attorney Glenn T. Suddaby and federal prosecutors handling the investigation have declined to comment.

Copies of some of the subpoenas show the probe of Bruno is broad. There have been subpoenas related to his real estate dealings, his ownership and breeding of horses, his ties to state labor unions and his work as a consultant for a Connecticut investment firm that has handled investments for those unions. Bruno abruptly resigned from that investment firm, Wright Investors Service of Milford, Conn., last year. He has declined to disclose how much he was paid as their consultant. Bruno also has declined to identify the clients of his private business, Capital Business Consultants. Brendan J. Lyons can be reached at 518-454-5547 or by e-mail at


Anonymous said...

Oh, boy. Time to start destroying more evidence. Uh, I need a drink, or two or three or four or five or six, hic, or seven or eight or nine or ten or eleven, buyback, or twelve or thirteen or fourteen or fifteen, etc.

Anonymous said...

Could there be dancing in the streets of New York?!? A judicial cleaning, a long needed New York enema? After the girlie-boys are dragged out handcuffed in their black dresses, the party will begin!! I smell something good here. I'm goin' to buy a new pair of dancing shoes!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

It's a about time. My heart bleeds when I think about all the people I know who have been destroyed because a phone call was made to fix a court proceeding.

Anonymous said...

has someone forgotten to name Sheldon Silver? Don't forget that name when the questions are being asked. There are many lumps under his rugs.

Anonymous said...

Sen. Bruno may not be Mr. Clean but his enemies have more bodies buried than he does. Actually he is Mr. Clean along side his foes.

Anonymous said...

You can rate your favorite crook at You can add a comment as well

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
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               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2
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