An appeals court has agreed to give speedy consideration to former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno’s appeal seeking to dismiss his second indictment and avoid a second federal honest services fraud trial.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City last Thursday granted the government’s request for expedited consideration of its request to dismiss the appeal. The court asked that motions on the matter be submitted to it by Feb. 13.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albany sought expedited consideration of the matter “to avoid unnecessary delay” in conducting a second trial.
Monday was originally scheduled to be the start of jury selection in Bruno’s second trial in U.S. District Court here, but Judge Gary L. Sharpe in December postponed the trial indefinitely, pending the outcome of the appeal.
Attorneys for Bruno argue in their appeal that a second federal trial on honest services fraud charges would constitute unconstitutional double jeopardy — being tried for the same crime twice.
In pretrial motions, the defense made a double-jeopardy argument to Sharpe, who refused to dismiss the case. Sharpe’s decision is what is now being appealed.
In 2009, Bruno was found guilty by a jury trial on two charges of honest services fraud, on allegations he had undisclosed conflicts of interest while serving in the Senate, including accepting money from friends who had business pending before state government.
The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently redefined the “honest services fraud” law to require proof of bribery or kickbacks, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals voided Bruno’s convictions for not containing such proof.
However, the government obtained a new indictment in May 2012, in which it alleged that $300,000 in payments to Bruno from businessman Jared Abbruzzese between 2004 and 2006 — the charges on which he was convicted in the first trial — constituted a bribe or kickback.
The defense contends that the case, having been tried once, can’t be retried a second time using a different definition of the crime. Prosecutors contend that since the first convictions were overturned due to a change in the law, they can legitimately take Bruno to trial under the redefined law.
Bruno, 83, of Brunswick, was the state Senate’s Republican majority leader from 1994 to 2008, when he resigned while under federal investigation. He was a leading advocate for Capital Region economic development projects and served in the Senate from 1976 to 2008.