May 19th - 2:13 pm
The state paid $1.8 Million in legal fees relating to the defense of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno in April, the state comptroller’s office said Tuesday, and there may be more to come.
That’s about three-quarters of the $2.42 Million Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office approved to be paid out back in December. The remaining $600,000 was rejected by the comptroller’s office for a host of reasons, included in a letter sent to Bruno’s attorneys last month.
According to the letter, about $161,000 of that total was unreasonable or inappropriate. The rest – $445,000 – was unexplained or undocumented.
Bruno has since re-submitted documents that could allow at least some of the latter part to be cashed out. According to the comptroller’s office, that’s currently under review.
After his acquittal in May of last year, Bruno said publicly he would seek as much as $4 Million from the state to be reimbursed for his legal troubles. He was ultimately granted more than half of that, but about $1.6 Million short.
Bruno was accused of acceping millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks during his time as a state official. He was originally convicted on corruption charges in 2009, but was ultimately acquitted on all charges last spring.
Here’s a full list of rejected legal reimbursements from the state comptroller’s office:
Apr 21st - 11:16 am
Campaign contributions can provide a different level of access for donors to politicians, former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno acknowledged in a radio interview on Tuesday morning.
“Think about here in government, generally,” Bruno said in the interview on Talk-1300 with Fred Dicker. “How do people in business, how do people get access to people who are in office? How do you get access? By financially contributions, by being helpful. Unions — putting people on the street for elections.”
Bruno in the interview said donations can open doors for contributors, but he always strove to be “objective” when hearing their concerns and efforts to influence public policy.
“Because someone gave you a donation of a $100,000 — does it mean you’re going to lay down and play dead? Of course not,” Bruno said. “What I would do is being objective and look at both sides of the issue.”
Bruno, a Rensselaer County Republican, was acquitted last year of theft of honest services charges — his second corruption trial after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling tossed the previous charge the former lawmaker was found guilty on.
He was responding in part to questions raised about his successor as majority leader, Long Island Republican Dean Skelos, who is under federal investigation for potentially exerting undue influence on behalf of an Arizona-based company as well as a real-estate company with ties to prolific donor Leonard Litwin.
Bruno said he is familiar with Litwin, who he said was always “above board” in his public dealings and praised his contributions to charities.
At the same time, Bruno noted Litwin as a campaign contributor has been able to gain access to elected officials.
“So, naturally if a fellow steps up like Lenny Litwin and he donates hundreds of thousands of dollars, you’re going to take his phone calls, you’re staff is going to meet with him,” Bruno said.
Litwin was a top donor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the last election cycle, donating $1 million through a network of limited liability companies, a process that good-government groups have decried as a loophole in campaign finance regulations, but the state Board of Elections recently deadlocked when considering a revision to the regulation.
Bruno has been a frequent critic of federal prosecutors, and decried again this morning what he saw as an overly aggressive Department of Justice.
“It doesn’t seem to stop, especially over these last eight or 10 years,” Bruno said. “Prosecutors are overly zealous, they’re very, very zealous. But that’s not to say people in government shouldn’t be watched.”
Jan 23rd - 11:11 am
Federal prosecutors bringing corruption charges against elected officials are “out of control” and can ruin lives, former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno on Friday said.
In an interview with Fred Dicker on Talk-1300, Bruno insisted the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who faces five counts of corruption and fraud, should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
It’s a topic Bruno is well versed on, given his own conviction on theft of honest services charges, which was later overturned. A subsequent retrial from federal prosecutors yielded a not guilty verdict last year.
Bruno has made little secret of his disdain for federal prosecutors.
“They run amok, they run out of control, they do anything they want to do to anyone in the country,” Bruno said.
Silver and Bruno both rose to power in the Legislature at around the same time.
Silver became speaker in 1994 following the death of Saul Weprin. Bruno became majority leader a year later after Republicans in the Senate overthrew Long Island Sen. Ralph Marino.
Bruno would leave the Senate in 2008, just before his indictment by the federal government.
In the intervening years, Bruno and Silver, along with Gov. George Pataki, comprised the three-men-in-room — Albany short hand for the closed-door negotiations process that’s vested in the leaders of the Legislature and the governor.
“Let me tell you, he was a formidable opponent,” Bruno said of Silver.
While unable to comment specifically on the bribery charges Silver faces, Bruno questioned his treatment at the hands of federal prosecutors.
“They lead people like Shelly around in handcuffs — why? Is he violent?” Bruno said, adding, “My experience with the feds is you are guilty until proven innocent as far as they’re concerned.”
Bruno and Silver faced very different prosecutors. Bruno was tried by the Northern District in Albany, while Silver faces U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in the Southern District, a much more closely watched office that has made a point of rooting out corruption in state and city government.
Still, Bruno criticized the treatment the government affords those who are accused of wrongdoing.
“You should not be stripped of all of your assets, you should be led around in chains, you should not surrender your passports,” he said. “The bigger the scalp, the bigger the headlines.”
Bruno questioned the scrutiny being placed on outside income, saying that the Legislature should go to a full-time model that prevents the “dregs” from being elected to office. Such law governing outside income are “fuzzy” he said.
“What Shelly is doing now to my knowledge he was doing 14 years ago,” Bruno said of the speaker’s outside legal work. “They can select anyone of those people and prosecute them under the federal law.”
Dec 4th - 2:20 pm
Former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno plans to detail his contentious relationship with ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer in a new memoir, he told Fred Dicker on Talk-1300 this morning.
Bruno, the majority leader from 1995 through 2008, tangled with Spitzer, most notably over the so-called “Troopergate” scandal.
The Rensselaer County Republican is writing the book with the help of Peter Golden, an Albany-area author.
“The very first chapter that Peter wants to do from start to finish pretty much is on Eliot Spitzer because he thought that is a segment that is sort of contained and a comparatively short period of time,” Bruno said.
Speaking with Dicker this morning, Bruno said he had hopes when Spitzer first took office.
“I trusted Eliot Spitzer like the majority of New Yorkers did to make him governor,” Bruno said. “He is probably one of the greatest disappointments that I had in politics, in my political life. I trusted him, I thought he was sincere. I thought he meant what he said in his campaign ads.”
The relationship started out well, Bruno said, with Spitzer even inviting him to his home in Columbia County and pledged to help the upstate economy.
“I thought boy oh boy, this guy really gets it,” Bruno said. “He gets our agenda.”
But things went south between Spitzer and Senate Republicans quickly as the newly elected Democratic governor sought to flip the chamber to his party’s control and finds of embarrassing Bruno through generating copies of records on his state aircraft usage.
Bruno recalled one time in which Spitzer called him on the phone in a heated conversation.
“He told me on the phone he was going to knock me down,” Bruno said. “I remember I was on the phone with him — ‘I’m going to knock you down and you’ll never get up.'”
Asked if Spitzer meant that literally, Bruno said he didn’t know.
“He must have been foaming at the mouth because he said get your ass down to my office,” Bruno said.
Nov 6th - 1:52 pm
Former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno advised his successor in the Republican conference to not form a new leadership coalition with Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein.
“Would I embrace Klein? No, I wouldn’t,” Bruno said in an interview on Talk-1300 with Fred Dicker.
Republicans in the state Senate on Tuesday won a clear 32-vote majority. With Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder once again expected to conference with the Republicans, the GOP does not necessarily need the five-member IDC.
“I have 33 votes,” Bruno said. “You need 32 votes to pass legislation. I passed many bills with 32 votes, important bills.”
Republicans fell into a numerical minority in 2012, but formed a leadership coalition with Klein and his breakaway conference that allowed them retain power in the Senate.
Under that agreement, Klein and Skelos jointly decide on which bills will come to the floor for a vote.
Now that arrangement remains in doubt following the defeat of three incumbent Democrats in the mainline conference upstate. For now, Skelos will not say what will happen to the IDC-GOP alliance. It is not expected the IDC will return to the mainline conference, either.
Skelos, meanwhile, is expected to remain the leader of the Senate Republicans, a job he took after Bruno retired in 2008.
“If I were Dean, I would be the Republican leader, I would stand for Republican ideals, I would go back to the basics,” Bruno said.
Jul 30th - 8:25 am
From today’s Morning Memo:
A former top Senate GOP aide says there are uncanny parallels between the infamous “Troopergate” scandal that bedeviled former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the Moreland mess that is now causing headaches for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
John McArdle, who served as spokesman for Joe Bruno when the then-Senate majority leader was the target of Spitzer’s botched political hit job, made the connection during his appearance on the “Insiders” segment of last night’s CapTon.
“Governors have tried this in the past – one in particular – Governor Spitzer, who, I think, used an entity – the State Police to try and force something,” McArdle said.
“…Here’s the parallel: That something was done in an attempt to force using an entity – whether it was Moreland or the state troopers – and you had it backfire.”
“I think the Moreland Commission, which is an executive entity – the statute says Moreland exists to investigate the executive, not the Legislature, that is the statute – so I think what happened with this is that by deputizing the members and making them deputy attorney generals, it was an effort to go after the Legislature,” McArdle continued.
“I think that was the intent all along. And using the commission as a vehicle, was, I think, the wrong vehicle, since they in turn started looking at the governor.”
(Interestingly, McArdle’s partner on “Insiders” last night was Democratic consultant Bruce Gyory, who worked for the Spitzer administration – albeit after Troopergate. Gyory declined to comment on McArdle’s theory).
Troopergate, as you’ll recall, involved Spitzer’s effort to use the State Police to report on Bruno’s travel and try to catch him violating the rules of mixing politics and state business while traveling on state aircraft.
Bruno at the time was Spitzer’s main political nemesis, and the governor was intent on trying to flip the Senate into Democratic hands.
The whole thing backfired, in no small part due to the NY Post’s Fred Dicker, who broke the story and furiously fanned its flames, but also because of an investigation conducted – and bombshell report issued – by none other than one Andrew Cuomo, who at the time was state attorney general (not to mention governor-in-waiting and a longtime political rival of Spitzer’s).
Troopergate sparked numerous probes – including one by Albany County DA David Soares, who, ironically, was also a member of the now-defunct Moreland Commission, and complained (according to the New York Times’ opus) about not receiving any case referrals before the governor shut the commission down.
No charges were ultimately brought against Spitzer for his role in Troopergate, but several of his top aides were slapped with charges by JCOPE’s predecessor – the State Commission on Public Integrity.
Also, Troopergate didn’t bring Spitzer down, though it did tarnish his reputation considerably. The former governor orchestrated his own demise with his penchant for pricey prostitutes.
McArdle didn’t mention another parallel between Spitzer and Cuomo – both are ambitious and aggressive, which led to complicated relationships with the Legislature.
But Cuomo has a deeper well of support than the self-professed “steamroller” Spitzer – even though some are now crowing over his current Moreland troubles. (Whether that support is motivated by fear of reprisal from the powerful governor is another story).
Cuomo has also been in office much longer than Spitzer was at the time Troopergate broke, and he has had far more success in office than Spitzer, passing four on-time budgets and numerous pieces of high-profile legislation (the SAFE Act, gay marriage etc.) through the Legislature.
So far, there’s just one probe – conducted by US Attorney Preet Bharara – into the Moreland scandal.
GOP AG candidate John Cahill is slamming his Democratic target, AG Eric Schneiderman, for remaining silent to date on the matter. But Schneiderman is in a bit of a bind, having deputized the Moreland members to give them investigatory powers outside the executive branch and providing top staffers to assist the commission.
May 16th - 12:31 pm
Former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno was found not guilty of federal corruption charges on Friday.
The trial was the second for Bruno, a Rensselaer County Republican, whose first conviction on theft of honest services charges was overturned following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Federal prosecutors successfully sought a second trial for Bruno on charges that he received bribes from a businessman in exchange for official acts, such as providing access to key state officials and providing lucrative state contracts.
In particular, prosecutors had focused in on Bruno receiving $360,000 in consulting fees, along with $80,000 for a valueless racehorse while backing businessman Jared Abbruzzese interests in thoroughbred racing.
Bruno had served as majority leader in the Senate for 14 years before leaving the Senate in June 2008.
Nov 7th - 3:01 pm
Lawyers for former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno requested in a letter to federal Judge Gary Sharpe that his corruption trail be postponed to April so the Rennselaer County Republican could recover from cancer surgery.
Federal prosecutors who are prosecuting the 84-year-old Bruno in a subsequent letter to not object, but are pushing for a Feb. 3 trial date. They noted in the letter that an October letter from Bruno’s doctor estimated he would need 90 to 120 days to recover from the September surgery.
A spokesman for Bruno previously announced the former senator was in recovery after a tumor was removed from his kidney in September.
The upcoming trial would be Bruno’s second on bribery charges. A 2009 conviction was vacated following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the theft of honest services charges Bruno was found guilty under.
Bruno was the Republican majority leader in the Senate from 1994 through his resignation in June 2008.
The letters, filed with the U.S. District Court in Albany last month, are below.
Sep 26th - 5:24 pm
Former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno is resting comfortably after undergoing surgery at a Manhattan hospital earlier today to remove a large cancerous tumor from his right kidney.
Bruno’s long time spokesperson John McCardle tells us the surgery took place today at Memorial Sloan Kettering. The 84-year-old Rensselaer County Republican is now with his family and “looking forward to continuing his recovery,” McArdle said.
This is Bruno’s second bout with cancer. He was successfully treated for prostate cancer back in 2003.
The former senator, who retired from office in 2008, is scheduled to go to trial in federal court in Albany this December. This is the second time he will be tried on federal corruption charges.
Aug 6th - 11:58 am
A new corruption trial for former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno can proceed after an appeals court ruled the case doesn’t present a double jeopardy and rejected his appeal.
Bruno was sentenced to two years in prison, but the ruling was called into question after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the statute under which the Rensselaer County Republican was convicted, theft of honest services.
A four-page order issued this morning unanimously rejected Bruno’s argument that the case presented a double jeopardy, essentially backing federal prosecutors’ call for a new trial.
Bruno faces bribery and honest services fraud charges.
A new trial for Bruno was originally scheduled for Feb. 3, but was postponed after his defense team sought to have the case tossed entirely on the basis of the double jeopardy position.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, however, wasn’t convinced.
“We see no merit to Bruno’s argument because, unlike the cases on which he relies, Bruno was convicted of the offenses that are now the subject to the retrial,” the ruling states. “While Bruno argues that the now-vacated convictions should be considered a non-event and the jury’s determinations on those counts should be ignored, there is no legal or factual support for this proposition.”
Here’s the ruling: