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Spa City reaction is mixed as Bruno guilty of corruption
Story Discussion By DREW KERR - firstname.lastname@example.org | Posted: Tuesday, December 8, 2009 1:00 am | (2) Comments
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Mike Groll - Associated Press Former New York Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno, right, leaves federal court in Albany on Monday, with his son, Kenneth, at left. A federal jury found Bruno guilty on two counts of corruption and not guilty on five others after a landmark trial that exposed Albany's practice of influence peddling by lawmakers.
Related: The trial's eight charges
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The sign hovering above the mineral water spring at the Saratoga Spa State Park has long been a source of frustration for Saratoga Springs resident Louise Goldstein.
Now she thinks she might finally be able to do something about it.
That's because former state Senator Joe Bruno - the man memorialized on the park placard - was found guilty on Monday of two federal corruption charges in Albany, the result of a three-week trial in which prosecutors alleged he illegally intertwined state and private business to enrich himself.
With Bruno now out of office, and his reputation seemingly on the ropes, Goldstein said she sees an opening to press her case that the sign should be removed, perhaps replaced with one that honors another elite Saratogian, such as Spencer Trask.
"People were always afraid to speak out against Joe Bruno because they didn't want to lose out on the money that he was able to give out," said Goldstein, reached at home shortly after the verdict was announced. "But I don't think he's got a whole lot of money to be giving out anymore."
Not everyone in the region reacted so coolly to the news that Bruno had been found guilty on two of the eight counts brought against him by federal authorities.
Local officials reacting to the verdict said Bruno's contributions to the region - among them, helping to coax GlobalFoundries to build a $4.2 billion computer chip manufacturing facility in Malta and securing $12 million for an expansion at the Saratoga Springs City Center - would not be diminished by the trial's outcome.
Jasper Nolan, chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Committee, said his support for the man he first met 50 years ago, as each was entering the political fray, was unwavering.
"I know my enemies can call me a lackey, but I've never been on Joe Bruno's payroll," he said. "As an individual, I will do whatever I can, and I'm assuming many of the people who have known and worked with the senator will continue to support him as well."
Nolan said he was "very disappointed" in the trial, which he described as a display of prosecutorial hubris.
The judge's demeanor toward Bruno during the trial and the fact that the case was not postponed until after the U.S. Supreme Court has a chance to take up the legality of the "honest services" law - under which Bruno was prosecuted - were concerning, he said.
The federal statute is based on the belief that an official can "deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." The law's legality will be taken up by Supreme Court Justices on Tuesday, following complaints that it is too vague.
"I firmly believe that Joe is innocent, and I'm not doing so blindly," said Nolan, who has served as the party's chairman in Saratoga County since 1986. "I'm looking only at the facts."
That empathy seemed to cross party lines, too.
Larry Bulman, chairman of the Saratoga County Democratic Committee, said he "took no joy" in seeing the conviction, given all the work Bruno has done to promote economic development in the county.
Many of those developments have benefited South Glens Falls-based Local 773 of the Plumbers & Steamfitters union, of which Bulman is president.
"I certainly don't take any glory in seeing a guy who did so much for this area - even though he was not from my party - end his career under this kind of a cloud," Bulman said.
Bulman was also one of 70 witnesses called to testify in the case.
Prosecutors questioned him about the union's association with Wright Investors Services, a Connecticut firm for which Bruno worked. Bruno allegedly failed to disclose the association.
Bulman said he was vindicated by Bruno's acquittal on the charges related to that interaction and pointed out that Wright is now one of the union's best performing money managers.
"It was nice to go in there and tell the truth and tell your story," said Bulman. "I respected him more when I found he was involved but that he didn't use that to put pressure on us."
Bulman dismissed speculation that his role in the trial might lead him to step down as the county's party chairman later this week.
State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, testified in the case as well, and she also said she felt the verdict showed there was no wrongdoing on her part.
Prosecutors had asked Little why grants given to Local 773, used to fund training programs for union members, were sought through her office despite the fact that the union's headquarters are outside of her district.
The union does, however, have a training center in the northern end of her territory.
Despite some sense of relief, Little said she thought the trial should prompt her and her peers to work harder on state ethics reform in the future and to make legislators' outside business affiliations more clear.
"I think this trial showed that Albany, and really government on all levels, needs to be held more accountable to the public and to be as transparent as possible," said Little, who serves on the regional advisory board of directors for Glens Falls National Bank and so precludes herself from serving on the Senate Banking Committee.
Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, said the case also shows that ethics laws need to be made clearer so there is no confusion about what a lawmaker should be compelled to disclose.
"The rules and the guidelines about what is admissible ought to be very clear," said Jordan, an attorney. "I don't think it's an insurmountable task."
The legislative session, which typically runs through January and June, could also be shortened to lessen the likelihood that legislators could intermingle private and state business, Jordan said. Bruno's work as a consultant and his solicitation of union pension investments provided the basis for many of the charges against him.
Prosecutors said during the trial that he made more than $3 million during the course of his three-decade career, including 13 years as the Senate majority leader, by wielding his power and influence.
Bruno argued that New York lawmakers are entitled to engage in outside business activities because they are part-time legislators. The court, he and his legal defense team argued, was the wrong venue to provoke changes to the system.
Jurors ultimately convicted Bruno on two corruption charges while acquitting him of five other charges. They failed to reach a decision on one count of mail fraud - a charge prosecutors said they may pursue again.
The charges on which Bruno was convicted relate to accepting compensation for consulting services from firms owned by area entrepreneur Jared Abbruzzese.
Bruno later sponsored state grants for another company in which Abbruzzese was an investor.
The other conviction related to the $80,000 sale of a "virtually worthless" horse to Abbruzzese - a transaction prosecutors said served as a "disguised gift" to compensate Bruno for consulting fees.
Abbruzzese sad at the trial that he sought Bruno's support in order to lend his businesses credibility and stature.
The 80-year-old Bruno now faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000, according to federal prosecutors.
Sentencing was scheduled for March 31, but Bruno told reporters after the verdict was revealed in an Albany court room that he was "very, very disappointed," and that the "legal process is going to continue."
His defense team said they will move to dismiss the verdict and will file an appeal if necessary.
"In my mind and in my heart, it's not over till it's over," said Bruno, who was released on his own recognizance after the verdict was delivered.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Andrew Baxter said the verdict reflected the jurors' "unanimous determination" that Bruno "deprived the citizens of New York of his honest and faithful services, contrary to federal law."
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 in the statement.
Prosecutors, Baxter said, "take no pleasure from what the trial revealed about the culture of New York State Senate, under the leadership of Joe Bruno," but will "continue to strive to ensure that public officials who breach their public trust will be held accountable."
A call to state Sen. Roy McDonald, elected to Bruno's seat after Bruno's retirement in 2008, was not immediately returned.
Attempts to reach several other local economic development officials, elected leaders and past Bruno associates were also unsuccessful Monday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Posted in Local on Tuesday, December 8, 2009 1:00 am Updated: 11:15 pm. | Tags: