A federal judge on Thursday sentenced former state Senate majority leader Joseph L. Bruno to two years in federal prison for his conviction on two mail and wire fraud charges.
Bruno is to remain free, however, pending a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the “honest services” fraud law under which he was convicted late last year — a law many observers think will be overturned.
The Supreme Court ruling is expected by the end of June.
“I am cognizant of the three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court,” said U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe. “We will determine the impact on this case at that time.”
Outside the federal courthouse after the three-hour proceeding, Bruno and his lawyer said they will appeal the jury’s Dec. 7 verdict convicting him on two counts within an eight-count indictment — assuming the Supreme Court decision doesn’t overturn it.
If the law is upheld, Bruno would likely have to report to a federal prison about six weeks later, though he could ask an appeals court to let him stay free pending the appeal.
Bruno has consistently maintained his innocence, and continued to say, both inside and outside court Thursday, that he had done nothing wrong in accepting money from business interests while serving as a state senator.
“I never schemed, I never dreamed I was breaking a law. If I did anything, it was inadvertent,” Bruno said at the end of a nearly hour-long statement to the court before sentencing.
In imposing the sentence, Sharpe said he thought Bruno sincerely believed he had done nothing wrong.
Sentence marks fall of ’Uncle Joe’
Only two years ago, Bruno was the most powerful and high-profile politician in the region. Click HERE.
“That’s not true, Mr. Bruno. You have committed a crime. You have a blindness and simply don’t see it,” Sharpe said.
The judge said Bruno also appeared not to understand that the lawyers in the state Senate who were working on his private business contracts while he was in office were in fact public employees, and that work was inappropriate.
“Despite what you think, they were not your lawyers,” Sharpe said.
Bruno, 81, of Brunswick, was the state Senate majority leader from 1994 to 2008, and prosecutors alleged he was receiving improper payments that entire time.
Bruno was convicted on the two charges after a four-week trial in federal court that ended with the Dec. 7 verdict.
Prosecutors said Bruno exploited his office for personal gain, violating the right of New York citizens to his “honest services.”
“This case highlights the commitment of the Department of Justice to root our public corruption wherever it is found,” said U.S. Attorney for Northern New York Richard S. Hartunian after the sentencing.
In giving a two-year sentence, Sharpe was balancing between prosecutors’ request that Bruno get 97 months in jail, or a little more than eight years, and the defense’s suggestion that he should get no more than six months, and preferably probation.
Sharpe said Bruno’s age, health and record of good works were things he considered, but also the public perception.
“There is an element of deterrence that deals with your brethren [fellow legislators] up on the hill,” Sharpe said before imposing sentence, referring to the nearby state Capitol.
In addition to two years in federal prison, Bruno would be placed on parole for an additional two years. He has already agreed to give up $280,000 he was convicted of obtaining illegally.
The original eight-count indictment had charged Bruno used his political office as a platform to obtain $3.2 million in business consulting payments between 1993 and 2006. He was convicted only of receiving $280,000 from businessman Jared Abbruzzese in 2004 and 2005, including consulting payments and $80,000 paid for Bruno’s interest in a “worthless” race horse.
Sharpe said he was free to consider all the evidence about all the charges, even though the jury acquitted Bruno on five of the charges.
“The conduct I’ve credited by a preponderance of the evidence is not isolated conduct. It is on-going and pervasive,” Sharpe said.
Bruno said the payments he received from business people — as much as $20,000 a month — were appropriate for the life-skills advice he was giving executives.
“I think I earned every cent,” Bruno told the judge. “I did a lot. I changed people’s lives.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe said in court that Bruno “didn’t do anything, or virtually nothing, for those sums of money.”
“The scheme stretched over years. It involved a lot of money,” She said.
Bruno’s defense attorney, William Dreyer of Albany, said Bruno didn’t commit extortion or accept bribes, and the government has only proven he had an undisclosed conflict of interest.
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