Final pretrial arguments are being made and other details put in place for the second federal corruption trial of former state Senate majority leader Joseph L. Bruno, scheduled to start on May 5 in U.S. District Court.
Defense lawyers and federal prosecutors filed some of their final pretrial documents on Thursday, including still-confidential witness lists and lists of possible evidence exhibits.
The lawyers also made legal arguments to U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe about how he should interpret the evidence and the law, and what kind of evidence will be needed to prove Bruno’s guilt or innocence.
Bruno, now 85, faces two counts of felony honest services fraud for allegedly accepting undisclosed payments totaling $440,000 from friend and businessman Jared Abbruzzese between 2004 and 2006.
At the time, companies Abbruzzese owned or invested in had business pending before state government, and the issue is whether the payments to Bruno for “business consulting” were in fact bribes or kickbacks.
At the time, the Rensselaer County Republican was one of the three most powerful men in state government, and was regularly steering millions of state dollars into local economic development projects.
Even though Abbruzzese’s companies received state grants, Bruno’s lawyers contend there’s no proof the payments were bribes Bruno sought to secure those grants.
“The government cannot prove the existence of an agreement or understanding that Mr. Bruno intended to be bribed by Mr. Abbruzzese,” write Bruno’s lawyers, prominent defense attorneys E. Stewart Jones of Troy and William Dreyer of Albany.
“Nothing prohibits legislators from being employed as consultants, nor from being retained by a company to provide services ‘as opportunities arise,’ ” the lawyers write.
Assistant U.S. attorneys William Pericak and Elizabeth Coombe acknowledge they need to prove bribery, but said in a court filing that such payments don’t need to be tied to a specific act done in return.
“The government need not prove that the defendant promised to perform a particular act,” the prosecutors assert. “The quid pro quo element is satisfied if the public official understood that as a result of the payment, he was expected to exercise particular kinds of influence on behalf of the payor as opportunities arose.”
At Bruno’s first trial in Sharpe’s court in 2009, he was acquitted of five charges of honest services fraud and convicted of the two involving Abbruzzese.
But under the law at the time, an honest services fraud conviction required only proof that an official received payments that weren’t properly disclosed.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a different case, subsequently ruled that honest services fraud convictions must include proof that the payments were bribes or kickbacks.
Based on that decision, Bruno’s convictions were overturned on appeal. Prosecutors last year got a new indictment using the same evidence and alleging Bruno did Abbruzzese favors in return for the money, including awarding state grants to his companies and putting one of his business associates on the board of the New York Racing Association.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks, according to earlier court filings.
Bruno, who lives in rural Brunswick, was a state senator representing Rensselaer and Saratoga counties from 1976 to 2008. He was the Senate majority leader from 1994 until 2008. He resigned first his leadership post and then his Senate seat in 2008, amid an FBI investigation of his financial activities.
Bruno has consistently maintained his innocence, saying money he received was paid legitimately in return for business consulting services.