Monday, January 26, 2009

Bruno Defiant, Denies Charges of Corruption - The Buffalo News

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A defiant Joseph Bruno, who was New York's top Republican as the State Senate majority leader, was arraigned this afternoon on federal public corruption charges.

"The state of New York and its citizens have an intangible right to the honest services of defendant Joseph L. Bruno," the eight-count indictment read.

If convicted, Bruno faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and $250,000 fine on each count.

But following his arraignment, Bruno lashed out at prosecutors and said they were using a double standard, ignoring crimes of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

"For over three years, I have been a target of a get Joe Bruno campaign. whether by former Gov. Spitzer or a politicized U.S. Attorney's Office and an overzealous FBI. I have with their effort had every relationship of my life probed, poked and looked over." Bruno said he did nothing wrong, nothing illegal and accused the prosecutors of a "sleight of hand."

"They cannot find one example of criminal activity or illegal intent," he said.

He noted that the U.S. Attorney did not charge Spitzer for either his "flagrant abuse of gubernatorial powers" by using state troopers in a smear campaign or for his association with a call girl ring. Prosecutors, though, say Bruno received $3.2 million from five entities between 1993 and 2006, which improperly exploited his official position and concealed conflicts of interest.

Bruno was charged with a "scheme to defraud" the government of the right "to his honest services" by brokering deals with at least five individuals or entities that paid him money while they had business before the Legislature or state, said Acting United States Attorney Andrew T. Baxter of the Northern District of New York.

Specifically, Bruno received $2 million in payments from two financial services companies that related to labor union pension benefit funds that invested with the firms "ostensibly as a result of referrals by Bruno."

Andrew T. Baxter of the Northern District of New York said he plans no criminal actions against any of individuals or companies named in the indictment, saying there was no evidence of any bribes or other wrongdoing.

Bruno got another $1.2 million in consulting fees by three individuals and related entities, some that benefited from Bruno's official acts. Baxter said Bruno did not perform "legitimate services" commensurate with the large fees he received.

"As Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno had a fiduciary relationship with the State of New York and its citizens requiring disinterested decision making and candid disclosure of the potential motivation behind his official acts," Baxter said this afternoon after Bruno's court appearance.

Baxter said Bruno failed to publicly disclose the existence of the relationships and resulting conflicts of interests.

"While New York state legislators are part-time officials permitted to pursue other employment or business activities, the indictment alleges that Bruno improperly exploited his official position and concealed conflicts of interests," Baxter said.

"Mr. Bruno exploited his office by concealing the nature and source of substantial payments that he received from parties that benefited from his official actions and the resulting conflicts of interests," the prosecutor said.

Bruno's response: "They are inventing a crime to get me," he said. He added that he looks forward to the truth at trial. Bruno pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance.

Bruno, who retired from the Legislature in July after more than a dozen years leading the Senate, was charged by the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York.

Bruno revealed more than a year ago that his private business dealings had been under investigation by the FBI for months. He has insisted that he did nothing wrong. Bruno represented his Troy-area district for 32 years.