Bruno's Senate secretary handled sideline business

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2009 9:35 AM

Former New York Senate leader Joseph Bruno's longtime statehouse secretary testified Monday that she handled paperwork and accounting for his sideline consulting firm without being paid by the business but helped herself to some Bruno money.

At Bruno's federal corruption trial, Patricia Stackrow said she typed Bruno's financial disclosure statements, tallied his consulting receipts and expenses for taxes, but she also wrote checks from the account of Bruno's firm, Business Consultants, to his personal bank account. Her notes showed he got more than $110,000 from fees in 1993 alone.

Stackrow testified with immunity from prosecution except for perjury. She served as Bruno's secretary in the Senate for more than a decade.

Now retired, Stackrow said her Senate job sometimes entailed 80-hour workweeks including nights and weekends, and she did the consulting company work in her free time, usually after 5 p.m.

Asked why she took money from the senator's personal bank account and how much, Stackrow said she didn't know.

However, prosecutors presented her grand jury testimony from last year, when she explained: "Retaliation for the way he treated me at times. He was demeaning, very degrading."

Bruno faces eight fraud counts, accused of denying New Yorkers his honest services while using his state influence to enrich himself by $3.2 million over 13 years.

Prosecutors say he contacted union officials to invest pension funds with an investment company that paid him, while the unions had business under consideration with the Legislature. He also got paid by three businessmen with state interests.

Bruno repeated Monday that as "a citizen-legislator," he had a right to conduct his private consulting business, just like lawmakers who are also lawyers or farmers when they're not doing state work.

He says he never compromised his public trust. He declined to comment on testimony from Stackrow or any other witness in the trial, now in its third week.

Stackrow testified that she personally filled out the financial disclosure forms Bruno was required to file about his outside business interests. She annually updated the previous year's form, reviewed it with lawyers on the Senate staff, then gave it to Bruno to sign, she said.

Stackrow testified the reason some forms didn't separately list companies for which Bruno did consulting work was based on the attorneys' advice, not Bruno's. She said the 80-year-old senator, who also retired last year, never told her to withhold any information.

She said Bruno's sideline partnership with a veterinarian and a businessman in breeding and selling racehorses ended in 2006 because of conflicts of interest.

That was because the two other men were involved in bids for the state thoroughbred racing franchise and Bruno as majority leader had input in the process for choosing who would get the franchise, she said.

John Lewis, Stackrow's attorney, said they'd asked prosecutors not to bring up her taking money from Bruno's account. Asked if she has any criminal liability, he said, "She has immunity. That's the answer to that."