NY Senate lawyer says he handled Bruno ethics

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2009 11:37 AM

A state Senate lawyer testified that he and two other staff attorneys handled the financial disclosure forms that prosecutors are trying to use against former New York Senate leader Joseph Bruno in his federal corruption trial.

Kenneth Riddette, former chief counsel for the Senate Republican majority, said Tuesday that he and the other lawyers advised Bruno and his secretary for more than a decade what information to include and omit from the senator's annual financial disclosures about his outside business interests.

Bruno faces eight mail and wire 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 allege failures to disclose some information, including some company and partner names, showed his intent to defraud.

Riddette testified that the lawyers gave Bruno and other senators their best guidance for complying with state ethics laws, which require disclosures and prohibit substantial conflicts of interest. "We tried to be as precise as possible," he said.

Riddette also testified that his guidance to the Republican senators was to have their disclosures hand delivered to the Legislative Ethics Committee to avoid any possible complications with mail fraud charges.

Bruno's secretary Patricia Stackrow testified that she filled out his disclosure forms, showed them to the lawyers with annual updates and questions, followed their guidance, then presented the final copy for Bruno to sign. Some drafts showed handwritten Bruno comments to ask more questions of the attorneys.

Riddette said the lawyers decided, once Bruno had received an initial opinion from the Legislative Ethics Committee, that his outside work for one investment company, McGinn, Smith & Co., was acceptable and that they didn't need a second opinion later regarding his work for Wright Investors Service.

Wright paid Bruno to help its salesmen contact union pension fund trustees, with a dozen placing millions of dollars with Wright, which paid Bruno commissions and later a salary.

Riddette acknowledged that probably every union in New York, every business or person, had interests before the Legislature "in one form or another." However, he said the test for conflicts of interest with lawmakers' sideline work was "employment that impaired independence of judgment."

Bruno maintains his consulting didn't interfere with his Senate work and he didn't violate public trust.

Riddette said he advised Stackrow and Bruno there was no need to disclose the names of clients or customers where his form listed work for Bruno's company Business Consultants, since the disclosure form says not to do that.

Questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Pericak, Riddette acknowledged that's the specific ethics guidance for lawyers, real estate brokers and other state-licensed professionals, which Bruno was not. There was no similar written guidance with the ethics disclosure form's question about outside employment.

Earlier, David Perdue, chief executive of the Asentinel company, testified Bruno helped him set up a meeting with state agency officials to pitch his telephone billing software and that he intended to pay Bruno 10 percent of any business he helped them find, though he couldn't afford to pay a proposed Bruno retainer fee. Perdue said no business resulted, though Bruno introduced him as an old friend with a software that could potentially save the agencies a lot of money.