The State of New York and its citizens paid defendant JOSEPH L. BRUNO a salary for his honest services, but, as a result of the scheme and artifice to defraud, to their detriment, were deprived of such honest services and instead received dishonest services.So reads Section 20 of the eight count indictment (pdf via the Times Union with h/t to blogger Saratogaspa) handed down by a grand jury against the former Senate Majority Leader after an investigation which dragged on for three years.
Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew T. Baxter and FBI Special Agent-in-charge John Pikus said New York's ''byzantine'' legislative structure made the investigation difficult because so many political decisions, including bills and spending measures, are made behind closed doors. [Albany Times Union]The document lays out, in clear and surprisingly readable terms, its allegations of Bruno's use of his political power for personal gain. It methodically recounts various entities depicted as shell companies designed to cover-up the payments, and specifies various failures to disclose his relationships and income to ethics panels, colleagues, and the SEC.
By tying the various alleged activities to specific instances of interstate emails, electronic bank deposits, and snail mailings, the grand jury indicted Bruno on charges of theft of honest services, a controversial prosecutorial tool which you can read more about here and here if you're interested. The best I can understand it, and any lawyers out there are invited to correct me if I'm wrong, it basically obviates the need for the prosecution to be at all specific as to motives and tangible damages caused.
There's not much here about Bruno's thoroughbred dealings; surprisingly, the broodmare transaction with Earle Mack which was just recently reported to be a continuing matter of the FBI's interest, is not part of the indictment. Instead, it alleges that Jared Abbruzzese compensated for the early termination of a consulting contract with one of his companies by paying Bruno $80,000 for a horse described as "virtually worthless." (And I certainly trust that Abbruzzese found a nice home for the animal, if it really changed hands.)
However, though racing is not a key part of the charges, it's been variously reported over the
Bruno of course lashed out against the charges and employed his usual boxing reference in his vow to fight them.
“I’ve been a fighter. And I don’t plan on changing now.”And indeed, many of the allegations in the document are vague ones that the prosecutors will need to make clear. There are references to companies and unions pursuing unspecified interests before the state and to Bruno taking similarly unnamed "discretionary official action" to the benefit of those companies, accusations that Bruno "did not provide consulting services commensurate with payments he received," and, in one case, an alleged "oral agreement" at the heart of one of the counts. These will all surely be subject to highly conflicting spins from each side and may be hard to prove. Perhaps more difficult for Bruno - and this is all, of course, merely this layman's point of view - will be the matters of non-disclosures and ethics violations involving specific statutes that are named.
“There is a frightening message to all elected officials who are not wealthy and who have to work to make a living....You, too, can become target practice with a statute that can infer, insinuate and imply because they can’t find the facts to make a criminal case.” [NY Times]
In any event and in my view, United States Of America v. Joseph L. Bruno is as much an indictment of Albany politics as anything else. I believe that Bruno is more a product of the environment in which he operated than a truly evil man (discussed in more detail in this post). The real problem is spelled out in Section 2 of the indictment, in which Bruno's duties as the Senate Majority Leader are laid out as follows.
(a) controlling the Senate's agenda and deciding whether bills would be brought to the Senate floor for vote; (b) together with the Governor and the Speaker of the Assembly, deciding which proposed budget appropriations would be funded in the annual state budget and (c) deciding how funds allocated to the Senate Majority for, among other things, member and line items, would be disbursed.That's far too much power in far too few hands for a representative democracy, and, sorry for the cliché, but power breeds corruption as we know all too well, so what do we expect?
- One other comment, on the speculation that Spitzer was behind the investigation, or that his being indicted now has something to do with the incoming Obama administration. It's entirely possible that Spitzer, vindictive as he was, could have spurred on the Justice Department early on. However, the investigation continued and intensified long after Spitzer resigned. And it was also conducted by a Justice Department under Bush which was highly politicized. So I don't buy any of that talk one bit.