Lawyer argues to toss Bruno convictions

The two felony fraud convictions of former state Senate majority leader Joseph L. Bruno should be ov
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The two felony fraud convictions of former state Senate majority leader Joseph L. Bruno should be overturned, or a new trial ordered, his defense lawyers argued in a new motion filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

The convictions, on two of the eight counts against Bruno, weren’t supported by the evidence, the defense motion argues.

Bruno, once one of the most powerful politicians in state government, was convicted on the charges on Dec. 7, after a month-long federal court trial that was one of the highest-profile cases the Capital Region has recently seen.

Bruno, 80, of Brunswick, was accused of depriving New Yorkers of his “honest services” by having financial conflicts of interest with numerous labor leaders and business people who had matters before state government.

Most of the allegations concerned the period when the Rensselaer County Republican was the most powerful senator in the Legislature, between 1994 and 2008.

Bruno contended that he was a part-time legislator with a right to make an outside living as a business consultant, but prosecutors said he illegally tried to hide those relationships.

In the new motion, lead defense attorney Abbe D. Lowell argued that the federal “honest services” fraud law Bruno was charged under remains unconstitutionally vague — an argument he also made prior to the trial — and that the convictions are also not supported by trial evidence.

The “honest services” law is currently under challenge in three different cases being heard this term by the U.S. Supreme Court — a fact Lowell noted in his papers.

Lowell further argued that prosecutors and U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe in his jury instructions improperly told jurors that the “appearance” of a conflict of interest was sufficient for them to convict Bruno.

The defense argued that it was never shown that Bruno took an official action because of any of his business relationships.

“The two convictions are fundamentally flawed, given the lack of sufficient evidence to establish any scheme to defraud, any intent to defraud, or any material misrepresentation,” Lowell wrote.

In addition to the convictions, the jury acquitted Bruno on five charges and it was unable to reach a verdict on one charge.

Lowell said the charges Bruno was convicted on — both involving Bruno friend and businessman Jared Abbruzzese — weren’t any different in fact or theory from the five charges he was acquitted of.

The charges Bruno was convicted of were that in 2004 he inappropriately took $20,000 a month for consulting for an Abbruzzese company, and that Abbruzzese paid him $80,000 for a “worthless” racehorse when the arrangement unexpectedly ended.

But, Lowell said, there’s really no difference between those charges and two others involving consulting work with Abbruzzese on which the jury found Bruno innocent.

“The government’s charge, its theory of wrongdoing, and the evidence it produced on the two convicted counts were no different than in those counts that resulted in acquittals,” Lowell argued.

Whether the motion will be successful is doubtful.

A defense motion to reverse the verdict is routine after a jury trial conviction in all criminal cases, and it is seldom granted. The motion will be decided by Sharpe, probably before Bruno’s sentencing, now scheduled for March 26.

Prosecutors have said they will seek prison time for Bruno, who potentially faces a sentence of up to 20 years behind bars.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William C. Pericak, the lead trial prosecutor, did not return a call late Thursday seeking comment on the new defense motion.

Bruno proclaimed his innocence throughout the trial.

Bruno resigned from his leadership post and then his Senate seat in 2008 as the three-year FBI investigation into his business dealings neared its end.

Categories: Schenectady County

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