- It has not been a good past few days for New York's Senate Majority Leader. First there was the blistering criticism on his stance on NYRA from his fellow Republican Charles Wait, who blasted Senator Bruno in his letter of resignation from the NYRA board (not to mention in his annual report at the Adirondack Bank).
And now, that pesky federal investigation into Bruno's business dealings which has been lurking ominously in the background of the franchise and other Albany matters, has reared its ugly head once again. It has not been clear over the last few months whether the investigation was still ongoing. We've heard no new news, except for the appointment of Glenn Suddaby, the prosecutor who was leading the probe, to a federal judgeship by the Bush Administration.
But the Albany Times-Union reported on Sunday that the investigation is not only alive, but has expanded into yet another possible area of conflict - Bruno's employment by Wright Investors, a Connecticut investment firm that handled tens of millions of pension dollars for unions that routinely had matters pending in the state capital. The emergence of the union subpoenas last week is the first sign this year that the FBI has not discontinued its interest in Bruno's financial affairs. Some of those unions are located in and around Bruno's upstate district. A number of the pension funds’ trustees also have longstanding political relationships with Mr. Bruno, who has been a close ally of labor unions in the Legislature. [NY Times]
The New York Times broke the story of Bruno's employment at Wright late last year, and Bruno quietly resigned shortly thereafter. Neither he nor Wright have ever been willing to comment on exactly what Bruno's role at the firm was. Now, the feds want to know.
FBI agents served subpoenas last week on the unions' pension and welfare fund leaders. The unions include Laborers Local 190 and Teamsters Local 294, among others.The NY Daily News reports:
The FBI told the labor organizations to produce records involving Wright Investors Service of Milford, Conn., and its holding company, Winthrop Corp., Bruno's longtime employers before his abrupt resignation in December.
The subpoenas, signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe of the Albany office, also call for any union records involving Bruno and his Brunswick consulting company, Capital Business Consultants. Coombe said Saturday she had no comment. [Times Union]
A union source said the FBI's requests were sweeping, adding: "They really want everything," including cell phone logs, travel records and receipts from any meals, drinks and gifts provided to Bruno.Wright released a statement which said: "Bruno has assured us ... that relevant authorities concluded that his business relationship with us posed no substantive conflict-of-interest issues." That's not exactly a ringing endorsement, and an indication that the company is seeking to distance itself from the Senator. In fact, it sounds like a potential opening statement in court. And the News notes that union bigs privately conceded the subpoenas are one more chink in the Republican powerhouse's armor.
"The conventional strategy of many building trades and public sector unions is about to end," one highly placed labor leader said. "They've made their bets on Bruno, but it's all unraveling."Of course, the investigation has been going on for two years, and, given this apparent new phase, nothing will happen to affect the franchise situation and the fast approaching Feb 13 deadline. Nor is Bruno likely to doing the perp walk before the March 31 budget deadline. But each new report of the probe can't do much for his credibility as he continues to try and paint Spitzer as the villain in the Troopergate incident which mostly, to this observer anyway, served to highlight the Senator's abuse of public money for his own political purposes.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has stayed mostly in the background of the franchise negotiations, except for his staunch opposition to slots at Belmont. Whether he's really sincere in that stance, or if he intends to use it as a negotiating card in the larger matter of the state budget, we don't really know. Spitzer included Belmont VLT's in his budget proposal, so the governor may feel it's the latter.
I found it interesting to read this article in the Times regarding the NY City Council's overwhelming desire to repeal existing tax breaks for Madison Square Garden. That position is supported by Mayor Bloomberg, whose plans for a football stadium on the West Side of Manhattan was killed partly due to the Garden's aggressive campaign against what it perceived as competition, and ultimately by Silver, who felt it wasn't in the interest of business interests in his Lower Manhattan district.
And once again, since this is New York, the matter of city tax breaks on an arena located in the city would have to be approved by the three men in an Albany room. Silver is thought to be once again aligned with Cablevision, the Garden's corporate owner, on this issue; and when a spokesperson was asked about it, he replied that as on any local issue, “the speaker would generally first turn to the local member to see where they are on that issue.” That member, Democrat Richard Gottfried, described as "a close ally of the Speaker," supports continuation of the tax break.
However, regarding VLT's at Belmont, the "local member," Republican Assemblyman Tom Alfano, is firmly in favor. So I guess that Silver's "local member" rule only applies to Democrats; or only if there aren't larger fish to fry. In any event, I personally don't believe that Silver's opposition to Belmont slots will hold up the franchise if and when Bruno and Spitzer finally reach an agreement; he'll either trade it away, or Spitzer will ditch the proposal, for now, and move on. And as far as the Garden, their tax break will continue - for now - since Bruno supports it too.