Federal prosecutors plan to pursue new fraud charges against former state Senate leader Joseph Bruno despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of some other convictions for “honest services” fraud.
Bruno, 81, was convicted on two charges and acquitted on five others after a monthlong trial last year. Prosecutors said taxpayers were denied honest services from Bruno because he concealed business interests that benefited from his public post as the longtime Republican leader of the state Senate.
U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian conceded in a recent letter to Bruno’s lawyer that the convictions should be reversed on appeal since jury instructions did not comply with the top court’s ruling, which came months after the trial. But he also said there was enough evidence presented at trial to sustain another conviction.
The case is pending at the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, with the defense brief due Feb. 11. Bruno remains free on his own recognizance.
Hartunian wrote that the appeals court should send the case back allowing prosecutors to seek another indictment and retry Bruno with correct jury instructions that follow the change in case law.
The Supreme Court ruled that the honest services statute criminalizes only schemes involving bribes or kickbacks. Prosecutors did not originally allege those acts, Bruno’s lawyers argued.
The defense wants the case dismissed.
“If they thought the evidence was there, they had the opportunity to charge it, and they did not,” attorney William Dreyer said today. “We remain confident that this matter will be ended on the merits either by the U.S. attorney or by the Court of Appeals.”
Federal prosecutors had accused Bruno of collecting $3.2 million in commissions and gifts over 13 years in return for using his influence as one of the state’s three most powerful politicians to benefit a dozen labor unions and three private businessmen. He denounced the eight-count indictment as a politically motivated fishing expedition.
Bruno, retired from office in 2008, didn’t testify but repeatedly told reporters that he always put his public duty first, and that as a part-time lawmaker, it was his legal right to pursue outside business interests as a consultant to an investment company, a brokerage and to the businessmen.
U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe sentenced him to two years in federal prison, but left him free in the meantime, noting his appeal “raises a substantial question of law.”