Ex-NY politician's corruption trial wrapping up

AP News
Posted: Nov 24, 2009 9:08 AM

The corruption case of former New York Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno has gone to the jury, which will decide whether he used his power to line his pockets and deprive New Yorkers of honest government.

U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe instructed jurors late Monday on the eight fraud counts, saying they must determine whether or not Bruno schemed to defraud New Yorkers and misrepresented or concealed his sideline business dealings. Deliberations begin Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege the longtime Senate GOP majority leader _ once a top power broker in New York _ used his state influence to enrich himself by $3.2 million over 13 years. He solicited union pension fund business for two investment companies and helped three private businessmen with technology and construction businesses who paid him as a consultant.

"Conflicts of interest resulted from a scheme by Senator Bruno to exploit his position for his personal compensation and enrichment," Assistant U.S. Attorney William Pericak said in closing arguments Monday. "He was one of the three most powerful men in New York state. He knew that everyone knew that. They knew he had the power to make things happen in New York."

Pericak argued that Bruno was required to clearly and publicly disclose his business interests and associates, who benefited from positions Bruno took on legislation and grants.

"Probably much of what he did was good," the prosecutor said. But he added that the public has a right to a public official's disinterested decision-making or else full knowledge of his conflicts of interest.

Bruno, 80, retired last year after 32 years in the Senate and more than 13 years as the leader of its Republican majority. Like most of the state's legislators, who are considered part time and earn at least $79,500 annually, he had other income.

Defense attorney Abbe David Lowell said the senator revealed his arrangements in annual state disclosure forms and that it was widely known among union pension fund trustees that Bruno was working for one of the investment companies, Wright Investors Service. Bruno consistently asked Senate ethics lawyers in deciding which business pursuits were permissible and in reporting his associations and outside earnings, which amounted to about $200,000 a year, he said.

"There was no exchange for any official acts," Lowell said, noting the only witness that testified otherwise among all 72 witnesses over three weeks was a convicted union racketeer who repeated hearsay and was trying to get a reduced sentence. "This is an indictment that seems to be in search of an actual crime."

Pericak said the many union officials who testified that Bruno's affiliation had no effect on their investment decisions to go with Wright would otherwise have admitted under oath to violating their fiduciary responsibilities to their pension funds. He said it was up to jurors to determine who was credible.

Sharpe told jurors that if Bruno received and used legal advice in good faith then he couldn't be convicted of the honest services fraud counts, though that would require full disclosure of all material facts to his ethics lawyers. Three testified to giving Bruno advice that he followed and said Bruno never asked them to hide anything, but acknowledged they didn't know everything he was doing in his sideline businesses.

Outside the federal courthouse, Bruno said he was innocent.

"I know in my heart, my mind, that I never ever did anything wrong. I did the very best I could. I never betrayed my public trust," he said. "And I think the evidence of my good intentions, my good deeds, are around here, and around New York state. And I never ever ever did anything to diminish my public service, 32 years, especially the 13 and a half years as leader."