Bruno faces sentencing in fraud case Thursday

The man who was once the Capital Region’s most powerful politician will learn Thursday morning wh


The man who was once the Capital Region’s most powerful politician will learn Thursday morning whether he’ll get federal prison time for two corruption convictions.

Former State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno will appear before U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe at 9 a.m. to learn his sentence on two felony charges of “honest services” fraud.

But unlike in state court, if the 81-year-old is going to prison it is almost certain that Bruno won’t be taken into custody immediately. Instead, he’ll be given a future surrender date, and even then may be able to remain free pending an appeal.

Prosecutors want Bruno to be sentenced to more the eight years in prison, while Bruno’s defense says he shouldn’t go to prison at all.

“The judge can literally do anything between those two,” said Laurie Shanks, a professor at Albany Law School.

Since Bruno was convicted after a jury trial last Dec. 7, dozens of letters for and against Bruno have also poured into Sharpe’s office, seeking to influence his decision.

If Bruno is sentenced to prison time, the Federal Bureau of Prisons policy is to try to house him within 500 miles of home, said Felicia Ponci, a spokeswoman for the prison system.

The only federal prison in upstate New York is a medium-security facility for men in Ray Brook, outside Lake Placid. Another facility in Otisville, Orange County, has both medium and minimum security areas. There are also six federal prisons in Pennsylvania, and one primarily for medical cases at the former Fort Devens in central Massachusetts.

Speaking generally, Ponci said the judge will set a date for surrender, and the U.S. Marshall’s Service will later notify Bruno which prison to report to.

Upon surrender, she said inmates are given physical and psychological evaluations, and assigned to housing. A judge can recommend where a prisoner should be housed, but the final decision is up to the bureau, Ponci said.

She said the fact that Bruno is a once-powerful politician convicted of fraud will have no bearing on his treatment.

Shanks said the surrender date would probably be four or five weeks away, which will give Bruno’s attorneys time to start an appeal. They can ask either Sharpe or a higher court to allow Bruno to remain free pending the appeal.

“It’s not likely he will go to jail anytime soon,” Shanks said.

Bruno, of Brunswick, was accused of “honest services” fraud for concealing his private business dealings with people who had business before state government while he was the majority leader. The charges covered his receipt of $3.2 million between 1993 and 2006; he led the Republican majority, making him one of the state’s most powerful politicians, from 1994 to 2008.

He was indicted on eight mail and wire fraud charges in January 2009, following a three-year FBI investigation. At trial, a jury acquitted Bruno of five charges, reached no verdict on one count, and convicted him of two counts involving businessman Jared Abbruzzese, in which Abbruzzese paid Bruno $280,000 for “business consulting” and for a “worthless” racehorse.

The prosecution and defense have agreed Bruno will make restitution of $280,000, but beyond that their opinions on sentence differ widely.

Prosecutors seek 97 months in federal prison.

“Defendant has eroded the confidence of the citizens of New York State in the proper functioning of their government by choosing to put his own personal financial interests ahead of the interests of those who elected him to serve them,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth C. Coombe wrote in the government’s sentencing memorandum.

Defense attorneys William Dreyer and April Wilson said Bruno has dedicated his life to public service, has health problems, and was convicted under a vague law — indeed, the “honest services” law is now under constitutional challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court, which may rule on three challenges to the law within weeks.

“Given the facts and circumstances surrounding the lack of notice provided by the honest services fraud statute, Mr. Bruno’s health, his exceptional public and personal history as fully discussed herein, we ask this court to impose a sentence of non-incarceration,” Dreyer and Wilson concluded their 70-page memo.

The sentencing has already been delayed once, but Sharpe turned down a defense request to delay sentencing until after the pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Eminent friends and supporters have been writing to Sharpe, urging leniency.

Among them is Patricia A. DeAngelis, a former Rensselaer County district attorney.

She recounted some of her many contacts with Bruno, and his interest in criminal abuse cases she was prosecuting. “Justice can easily be served by permitting this man, who has lived an exemplary life for 81 years, to serve a sentence that does not involve incarceration,” she wrote.

E. Stewart Jones, the prominent Troy defense attorney, said Bruno’s years of public service and his efforts to promote economic development in the region should be considered. “The investigation, prosecution, trial and conviction of two counts for Joe Bruno has punished this exceptional and good man beyond the capacity of the law to do so,” Jones wrote.

But there are also letter-writers urging Bruno be sent to prison.

“Eight years in jail is not enough for Bruno. You must set an example. His crimes against democracy are not forgivable, as they occurred over and over,” wrote Joanne Steele of Kingston.

Charles Grodin, the actor, author and former television talk show host, has also written to the court, recalling Bruno’s personal involvement after he filmed a segment in the 1990s arguing that four women then in state prison deserved clemency.

The women won release within a year, he said, and in 2004 the Rockefeller Drug Laws were reformed to make sentences like those the women had received less harsh. “None of this would have happened without the decency and support of Senator Bruno,” Grodin wrote.

Categories: Schenectady County

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