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Judge denies Bruno motions

Evidence stays; trial days to be shortened

Friday, May 2, 2014
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Former Senate majority leader Joe Bruno is swarmed by reporters outside Federal Court in Albany in 2010.
Former Senate majority leader Joe Bruno is swarmed by reporters outside Federal Court in Albany in 2010.

— Just days before the start of his second federal trial, former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno lost his bid to keep certain evidence out of play.

At a brief final pretrial conference Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe denied a motion by defense attorneys who wanted to block evidence concerning conduct on which Bruno was acquitted at his first trial in 2009.

Sharpe also ruled against defense motions to keep new evidence out of the trial and to block some hearsay evidence, but agreed to allow defense lawyers E. Stewart Jones and William Dreyer to raise objections during the trial.

The judge also reserved decision on a fourth defense motion, to keep evidence concerning political donations out of the trial.

Bruno, who was the state Senate’s Republican majority leader from 1994 to 2008, is accused of two felony counts of honest services fraud. He is charged by prosecutors with taking $440,000 in payments from businessman Jared Abbruzzese, a friend, as a form of bribe or kickback.

During the 10-minute conference, Sharpe agreed to a Bruno request to run the trial day from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. — a shorter day than he set for Bruno’s first trial and a concession to Bruno’s health. But Sharpe said he could change his mind if Bruno starts holding impromptu courthouse steps news conferences as he did daily in 2009.

Bruno, who is 85 and lives in Brunswick, Rensselaer County, underwent surgery in September to remove a cancerous kidney tumor. The surgery delayed the trial, which was originally to start last fall.

At his first trial in 2009, Bruno was tried on eight felony fraud counts and acquitted of five. He was convicted of two counts concerning payments from Abbruzzese and the jury deadlocked on the eighth count.

An appeal subsequently invalidated the convictions after the U.S. Supreme Court changed the standard for honest services fraud to require proof of bribes or kickbacks.

Last year, prosecutors got a new indictment, alleging the $20,000-per-month payments from Abbruzzese from 2004 to 2006 — which Bruno says were legitimate business consulting fees — were actually bribes for Bruno’s help in securing state grants for companies Abbruzzese had invested in.

Bruno also received an $80,000 payment from Abbruzzese for Bruno’s share in a “virtually worthless” thoroughbred colt the men owned in a partnership, and prosecutors say that was a bribe.

Bruno has consistently denied any wrongdoing, saying the payments were legitimate business-consulting fees.

In the first trial, prosecutors tried to show a pattern of conduct in which Bruno accepted money from various sources without properly disclosing it on state ethics forms. Sharpe’s ruling Thursday will allow some of that evidence to be reintroduced at the new trial.

Separately Thursday, the judge denied a motion by the Times Union newspaper to release each side’s lists of prospective witnesses. Sharpe had placed them under seal.

However, legal motions filed by the lawyers indicate that prosecutors may have as many as 10 new witnesses — people who didn’t appear at Bruno’s first trial.

First elected to the Senate in 1976, he resigned from office in 2008 as a lengthy FBI investigation of his activities neared conclusion. Since then, he has kept a generally low profile.

Because of his leadership position, Bruno at the time of the alleged crimes was one of the most powerful men in state government. He used his influence to steer state money to start the Luther Forest Technology Campus and numerous other economic development projects in this area. Many Capital Region residents still regard Bruno as a local hero for the state-funded projects he supported.

Jury selection will begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday. Sharpe has indicated he hopes a jury can be seated in time to have opening statements Monday afternoon.

 
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