A federal appeals court Wednesday gave federal prosecutors another crack at convicting one of the most powerful figures to have served in New York's statehouse after throwing out a conviction against a former Senate majority leader.
Joe Bruno served as the Senate majority leader until he retired in 2008, a position in which he exercised immense control over his GOP caucus, the flow of legislation and financial largesse.
Federal prosecutors hit Bruno with an eight-count indictment accusing him of trading his influence for financial benefit, convincing a jury to convict him on just two counts of honest services fraud. A federal court sentenced him to two years in prison.
During Bruno's appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court in Skilling, a case involving a former Enron CEO, ruled that laws preventing the theft of honest services were too vague and must only criminalize kickbacks and bribes, instead of making it a crime to fail to disclose conflicts of interest.
In Bruno's case, he was convicted of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees while serving as a Senate leader from an Albany businessman who was trying to receive state funding for his companies.
Businessman Jared E. Abbruzzese and his partner Wayne Barr Jr. had given Bruno $200,000 in consulting fees and $40,000 from the sale of a racehorse. Prosecutors said that these payments were made so that a nanotechnology company in which Abbruzzese held interest would receive state grants. The company, Evident Technologies, obtained $1.5 million from New York in 2002.
The grant money, divvied up into three parts, was slow to reach Evident until Abbruzzese reached a consulting agreement with Bruno, which prosecutors argued was a no-show gig. Five days after Bruno suggested the consulting agreement, he had signed off on a form to allow Evident to receive another chunk of the state grant, according to court documents.
Bruno, however, was never charged with bribery, but for failure to disclose material conflicts of interest. In light of the Skilling ruling, Bruno and prosecutors agreed on his conviction being vacated, but the government pushed for a retrial on three counts.
Bruno, however, contended that double jeopardy would bar another trial because prosecutors failed to prove a quid pro quo, as required under the Skilling ruling.
We find that there is sufficient evidence in the record for a reasonable jury to find a quid pro quo for two counts of fraud, Judge Barrington D. Parker of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Second Circuit.
In addition to retrying Bruno on his two-count conviction, the court also allowed prosecutors to retry the former lawmaker on a third count that resulted in a hung jury. The third count related to checks that a wireless company mailed to Bruno related to a series of consulting agreements.
A release from U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian said his office is working toward filing a superseding indictment against Bruno.
Bruno's defense team--Abbe D. Lowell of Chadbourne & Parke and William Dreyer of Dreyer Boyajian--said in a statement said that the former state senator is pleased that his conviction was vacated and urged prosecutors to drop their case.
The court of appeals had to agree with favorable inferences of the government's case -- but a jury hearing real evidence is a whole different and much more difficult test, the defense attorneys said. We hope the U.S. Attorney will now let go of its pursuit of this 82-year-old man who has given so much to New York state and suffered for six years under wrongful charges.