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The Times
  • Revised fraud case against ex-leader of Senate

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  • ALBANY (AP) — When the former leader of New York’s Senate goes on trial next month for the second time, he’ll stand accused of only two charges under a revised fraud case alleging he took actual bribes or kickbacks.
    Retired Sen. Joseph Bruno is accused of accepting more than $400,000 from a businessman for helping with state grants. The 85-year-old Rensselaer County Republican led the Senate’s majority for 14 years before stepping down in 2008. He has denied any wrongdoing, maintaining he was paid for outside consulting work.
    Bruno was acquitted in 2009 of five fraud counts and convicted of two others. The convictions were overturned on appeal after the U.S. Supreme Court required proof of bribes or kickbacks in so-called honest services fraud cases. The 1988 statute applied in political corruption cases addresses “a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services,” in this case allegedly depriving New York taxpayers.
    Prosecutors refiled those two charges alleging a bribery scheme between Bruno and Jared Abbruzzese from 2004 to 2006 involving consulting payments and the purchase of a useless racehorse. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe argued in a trial brief filed Thursday that prosecutors don’t have to prove Bruno promised to do something in particular for the money, only that he would exercise his influence “as opportunities arose.”
    Defense lawyers argue that prosecutors themselves describe the horse purchase as a gift, not a bribe, and say that charge should be dismissed. Attorney William Dreyer wrote in his trial brief that the notion “as opportunities arise” is too vague to pass constitutional muster and that the prosecution littered its new indictment with generic accusations like Bruno’s “perceived ability to influence official action.”
    Many of New York’s part-time state legislators have outside jobs. “The government’s theory has the potential to catch every consultant on retainer in its net,” Dreyer wrote.
    The superseding indictment alleges that Abbruzzese and his companies paid Bruno $360,000 in consulting fees in 2004 and 2005 and that Abbruzzese gave him the equivalent of $80,000 for the horse. Prosecutors allege Bruno in return took several steps using his Senate position to benefit Abbruzzese, including directing a $250,000 grant to Evident Technologies, a company in which Abbruzzese was an investor, and a $2.5 million grant to the Sage Colleges that benefited Evident.
    Abbruzzese, testifying with immunity from prosecution except perjury in the first trial, said he wanted Bruno as a consultant for his contacts and got guidance in improving his skills dealing with people. Abbruzzese, whose main business was fixing troubled technology companies, said Bruno was paid $20,000 a month for 18 months, totaling $360,000.
    The trial is scheduled for May 5.

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