Evidence supports the guilty verdict against former state Senate majority leader Joseph L. Bruno, “and there is no reason to disturb it,” federal prosecutors argue in a new legal brief.
The brief filed Friday with U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe is in response to a Jan. 14 defense motion arguing that the two guilty verdicts for fraud should be set aside as inconsistent and lacking evidence.
In the new papers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth C. Coombe said the federal court jury that heard the government’s case against Bruno properly found that Bruno had undisclosed conflicts of interest between his official duties and his private consulting work.
Bruno was convicted on Dec. 7 of two of the eight felony charges against him after a three-week trial and seven-day jury deliberation. Sentencing is scheduled for March 26.
Letters about sentencing are pouring into Sharpe’s office, including one this week in defense of Bruno from wealthy Saratoga Springs socialite Marylou Whitney and husband John Hendrickson.
Bruno, 80, of Brunswick, was convicted of committing “honest services” fraud under an argument that he had financial conflicts of interest that he didn’t disclose to the public.
At the time, he was the leader of the Senate’s majority Republicans and one of the most powerful men in the state. He held that position from 1994 until 2008, the year he resigned from the Senate amidst an FBI probe into his activities.
Bruno’s convictions and the trial publicity have been among the driving forces behind this winter’s push — now stalled after the governor’s veto — for new ethics reform legislation at the state Capitol.
Bruno maintains that he is innocent of all charges. He said he followed the existing, but now widely criticized, financial disclosure rules.
Whitney and Hendrickson said Bruno shouldn’t be blamed for Albany’s corrupt atmosphere.
“The Joe we know would NEVER intentionally break any law, nor knowingly betray the public’s trust,” they wrote to Sharpe. “He is an honorable and honest man who has a good moral compass.”
They acknowledged that the trial shows lax ethical standards among politicians at the state Capitol.
“However, to punish Joe Bruno for all that is wrong with Albany would be wrong, too,” they said. “Joe Bruno thought he was playing by the rules set up by the government — albeit loose rules made by themselves and for themselves.”
The two guilty verdicts covered $200,000 in payments made to Bruno by businessman and friend Jared Abbruzzese in 2004 — a relationship prosecutors said created conflicts for Bruno.
Those verdicts applied to charges that Abbruzzese paid Bruno $120,000 over a six-month period as a $20,000-a-month business consultant and $80,000 for a “virtually worthless” young thoroughbred the men owned in partnership.
A company Abbruzzese invested in had financial interests pending before the state at the time, prosecutors said.
But the jury also found Bruno innocent on two other charges involving Abbruzzese payments, leading to the defense argument in its post-trial motion that the verdicts were inconsistent.
Coombe, in the new brief, argues that case law requires reviewing the evidence for the two guilty verdicts “in the light most favorable to the government.”
Prosecutors make no reference to their original argument that Bruno illegally received $3.2 million between 1993 and 2006. The jury found Bruno not guilty of the charges related to the largest sums of money.
In a 16-page brief heavy on case law citations, Coombe said Sharpe should remain consistent with earlier rulings and ignore the arguments over whether the “honest services” law is unconstitutional, now being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
She also defended the convictions against the argument that no connection was established between a payment to Bruno and any official action.
“Case law makes clear that conflict of interest honest services fraud can exist without a quid pro quo,” Coombe wrote.
“Defendant’s arguments,” she wrote later, “rely on mistaken views of the law and a myopic view of isolated pieces of evidence in the light most favorable to himself.”
Bruno also can’t argue that he relied on the advice of Senate lawyers because he withheld relevant information from them about an Abbruzzese company seeking state grants, Coombe said.
“Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, this was compelling evidence of defendant’s intent to commit honest services fraud,” Coombe wrote.
She said Bruno also ignored advice from Senate staff attorney Francis Gluchowski to document his work for Abbruzzese and use private resources rather than Senate staff.
There is no indication when Sharpe will rule on the defense motion to overturn the verdict. Such motions are seldom successful but can lay grounds for a future appeal.
There are currently no legal papers due until sentencing memorandums in March.
Bruno remains free pending sentencing.
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