BY MICHAEL HILL
The Associated Press
Joseph Bruno, who was New York’s top Republican as the state Senate majority leader, was accused in a sweeping federal indictment Friday of abusing his public position to enrich himself.
Bruno, who retired from the Legislature in July after more than a dozen years leading the Senate, was charged in an eight-count indictment by the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York. He is accused of using his position to steer contracts and grants to businesses that paid him a total of $3.2 million in consulting fees or other compensation from 1993 through 2006, and then covering his tracks.
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“Bruno exploited his offi ce by concealing the nature and source of substantial payments that he received from parties that benefited from his official actions and the resulting conflicts of interest,” acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Baxter said after the indictment was handed up.
Bruno pleaded not guilty during a brief court appearance Friday. He quickly held a news conference to denounce the investigation as a politically motivated “fishing expedition that smells really, really bad.”
“After being hounded for three years, I am being indicted on a prosecutorial sleight of hand because, after years of effort, they cannot fi nd one example of criminal activity or illegal intent,” Bruno said.
The longtime lawmaker faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines on each of the eight counts. Prosecutors said he could also face forfeiture of illegally gained assets.
The indictment follows a federal investigation that has lasted three years and accuses Bruno of failing to provide the honest services required of a public official. He is accused of entering into a web of business relationships that enriched him and then concealing the relationships, even lying on public financial disclosure forms.
Prosecutors claim Bruno failed to perform “legitimate work” to justify some of the payments. They characterize payments from Abbruzzese Companies as “in whole or in part, gifts.” In one case, they say Bruno’s Mountain View Farm was paid $80,000 for a “virtually worthless” horse.
In one example, Bruno is accused of soliciting officials of 16 labor unions with interests before state government to hire Wright Investors’ Service as their fi nancial adviser even as he was paid $1.3 million over a 12-year period from Wright.
“He was contacting union funds on behalf of Wright for personal compensation and enrichment,” according to the indictment.
None of the companies or unions mentioned in the indictment were accused of wrongdoing.
Wright released a statement saying Bruno and his attorney assured them that his actions were cleared by the proper ethics groups. “If Mr. Bruno engaged in illegal activities, Wright was not aware of them,” according to the statement.
Jared Abbruzzese’s lawyer did not return a call and a home phone number could not be found.
Bruno is also accused of using state employees to do administrative and other work related to his outside financial activities.
The 79-year-old Bruno represented his Troy-area district for 32 years. He seized power in the Senate by staging a Thanksgiving Day coup in 1994 with the consent of George Pataki, who had just been elected governor. Bruno became the most powerful Republican in state government when Democrat Eliot Spitzer succeeded Pataki.
Bruno was one of the most colorful figures at the state Capitol. Earthy, energetic and quick to laugh, the former boxer could be pugnacious when threatened. He had an especially hostile relationship with Spitzer, who aggressively tried to chip away at the Republican’s majority in the Senate.
Before Spitzer resigned in disgrace amid a prostitution scandal, Bruno had accused Spitzer of putting him under police surveillance to embarrass him over trips on state aircraft to attend political functions.
Bruno on Friday compared the federal prosecutors’ efforts to Spitzer’s campaign against him.
“I’m going to fight this and I’m going to win,” Bruno said.
Bruno has been dogged by allegations throughout his legislative career that he failed to separate his political and business dealings. But he has not faced actual charges until now.
After his retirement, Bruno became chief executive officer of CMA Consulting Services. CMA, an information technology consulting business based in Latham, is headed by Kay McCabe Stafford, the widow of Republican Sen. Ronald Stafford.