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Judge denies Bruno retrial

Judge denies Bruno retrial

A U.S. District Court judge has denied former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno’s request

A U.S. District Court judge has denied former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno’s request for a new trial but postponed his sentencing on fraud charges until May 6.

Judge Gary L. Sharpe found the arguments for overturning Bruno’s December conviction on two fraud counts to be “without merit.”

That decision and the decision postponing the sentencing were both released by the court Wednesday.

Lawyers for Bruno and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, meanwhile, have reached an agreement on how much money Bruno will forfeit based on his conviction on two official corruption charges.

Details of the agreement, reached at a court conference Tuesday, are not expected to be released until Sharpe signs an order, but it would be some portion of the $240,000 Bruno received through the fraud for which he was convicted.

In denying the request for a new trial, Sharpe rejected defense arguments that the evidence against Bruno was insufficient. Defense lawyers had argued that some of the five counts Bruno was acquitted on mirror the facts in the counts on which he was convicted.

Sharpe said that argument is “without merit. It is well-settled that even plainly inconsistent jury verdicts, simultaneously rendered, are the jury’s prerogative.”

The judge also rejected the argument that his pre-deliberation jury instructions were faulty.

“There is nothing to suggest that the court’s instructions were anything but grounded in the law, and mere disagreement with the jury instructions is insufficient to warrant a new trial,” Sharpe wrote.

Sharpe also granted a request by Bruno attorney William J. Dreyer to push back the sentencing of Bruno, which had been set for March 26.

Sharpe moved the sentencing to May 6 and told lawyers to present their presentencing legal arguments by April 22.

Dreyer had sought the delay “to allow counsel sufficient time to continue to gather relevant sentencing materials and to make submissions to the court, which we anticipate will be lengthy,” he wrote in a letter to Sharpe on Tuesday.

Prosecutors are expected to seek federal prison time for Bruno, who is currently free without bail.

Bruno, who will turn 81 in April, was once one of the most powerful politicians the region had ever seen, routinely steering millions in state money to regional economic development projects and community organizations.

The Rensselaer County Republican resigned in 2008 while he was being investigated by the FBI. He was indicted in January 2009 on eight felony counts.

On Dec. 7, he was convicted of two of the eight charges after a four-week federal fraud trial and seven-day jury deliberation.

Bruno was convicted under the controversial “honest services” fraud statute, which alleged undisclosed financial conflicts of interest between his role as a state official and his private business interests.

The two guilty counts covered $240,000 in payments made to Bruno in 2004 by businessman and friend Jared Abbruzzese, a relationship prosecutors said created conflicts of interest for Bruno.

Companies Abbruzzese invested in had interests pending before the state at the time.

The charges were that Bruno was receiving $20,000 a month from Abbruzzese as a “business consultant” without doing significant work and also got $80,000 to buy out his interest in a “virtually worthless” young thoroughbred he and Abbruzzese co-owned.

Since the verdict, Sharpe’s office has been flooded with letters from friends and supporters of Bruno seeking leniency in sentencing, as well as some letters urging harsh punishment.

Bruno was a state senator for 32 years and was the Senate majority leader from 1994 to 2008, making him one of the most powerful men in state government.

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