Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bruno Probe Sees a Flurry by James M. Odato - Times Union - Albany NY

Read original...

Federal investigators pursuing a criminal probe of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno have called people familiar with details of his activities to testify before a grand jury here in recent weeks.

The actions of the United States Attorney for the Northern District's office suggested to at least one of the parties subpoenaed that prosecutors in the roughly three-year-old case are authenticating documents produced by witnesses for the FBI.

Several subpoenas were issued in recent weeks and shortly before the November elections, according to recipients and people close to individuals receiving the orders, which required secret testimony at the U.S. Courthouse in Albany.

Jack Werk, a thoroughbred horse expert from California, said Friday he flew here in September to testify. He said his request to appear before the grand jury came more than a year after he produced documents and other information for the federal probe.

He declined to discuss his testimony. He has told the Times Union previously that he prepared an analysis for a proposed thoroughbred horse transaction involving Bruno and former New York Racing Association trustee Earle Mack, an avid horseman whose wealth grew from downstate real estate holdings. Mack sold Bruno two breeding mares for Bruno's breeding business in Brunswick. Offspring later sold well above the sums Bruno paid for the mares. Mack purchased one of the yearlings.

Also, lobbyists and former public officials have been called to testify, according to people close to those witnesses.

Paul Holstein, a spokesman for the FBI, said his office would have no comment. Bruno's lawyer, William Dreyer, did not respond to a message left at his office. Bruno has said he has done nothing wrong.

A person familiar with the probe said it appears the federal government is building toward a climax in the case.

Mack had secured Werk to write a letter confirming that the sale of the mares to Bruno was fair to the buyer.

A previous subpoena to Werk showed the FBI's broad interest in horse deals involving Bruno and his friends dating to Jan. 1, 2001.

Documentation sought from Werk involved 15 related people, business entities or horses, including Bruno and his breeding farm. Those named include Bruno associate Jared Abbruzzese and his partner Wayne Barr, both of whom are Capital Region businessmen and thoroughbred owners. Barr was a Bruno appointee on the New York Racing Association board until last year. He had replaced Mack as an NYRA trustee. Bruno had also appointed Mack.

The subpoena also sought information about:

Bazaguma, a partnership controlled by Abbruzzese and named after his four children;

Weatherwatch Farm and Weatherwatch Equine Training Center, which are owned by Abbruzzese or his wife, Sherrie;

Jerry Bilinski, Bruno's close friend and a veterinarian from Columbia County;

Bilinski's Equine Medical Center in North Chatham;

Barr's Willow Rock Stables;

Mack and Mack's Rising Son Farm;

Ladies Night In and You're The Top, the two mares Bruno got from Mack.

The federal investigation involves many aspects of Bruno's public and private life. The former Republican leader, now leading a consulting company in Latham and registered as a lobbyist, had operated his own consulting business, served a Connecticut investment house and bred horses during his tenure in the state Senate.

Besides the horse transactions, federal prosecutors have been interested in union funds from New York labor groups invested with Wright Investors Service of Milford, Conn., a firm that employed the senator for more than a decade. The probe has also looked at land deals involving Bruno and economic development grants he arranged.

In July, Bruno stepped down from the Senate after 32 years in office.