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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Honestly (w/updates)

With Albany still absorbing and evaluating the effect of the verdict which made Joe Bruno a convicted felon, the constitutionality of the "honest services" law under which he was prosecuted was argued in the Supreme Court on Tuesday. And apparently, not very well for the federal government.

The 21-year-old statute, which makes is a crime to "deprive another of honest services," has recently been criticized by both the left and right as overly broad. Judging from their questions, justices from both ends of the ideological spectrum also appeared united in their skepticism of the law. Justice Stephen Breyer said the law's language could enable the indictment of tens of millions of people, while Justice Antonin Scalia mockingly said that the law has come to mean, "Nobody shall do bad things." [AmLaw Litigation Daily]
Y'know, for a guy who's supposed to be so charming and bright, Scalia has never struck me as being either. Just seems like your garden variety radical in robes as far as I'm concerned.
Most of the other justices sounded the same theme. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested several times that the law might be unconstitutional because it was so vague.

"A citizen is supposed to be able to understand the criminal law," Breyer said, yet it was unclear what the law in question branded as a crime. [LA Times]
I don't really understand what's so unclear here. An elected official compromises the interest of the public which elected him or her in the course of enriching himself personally.
The honest-services law, on the federal books since 1988, broadly requires that public and corporate officials act in the best interests of their constituents or employers.
Is that so complicated?

[UPDATE1: Justice Breyer added:
Complimenting the boss’s hat “so the boss will leave the room so that the worker can continue to read The Racing Form.....could amount to a federal crime. [NY Times]
Can't say I've ever thought of that one.]

Bruno was convicted on counts four and eight; the latter was regarding his "failure to disclose his participation through Mountain View Farm in a partnership with Abbruzzese involving thoroughbred race horses." But interestingly, and contrary to what was reported in some articles I've seen, this was not the count which dealt with the $80,000 (actually $40,000 cash and a $40,000 debt forgiveness) that Abbruzzese paid Bruno for a horse now generally accepted as being "broken down." That was count six, of which Bruno was acquitted. Recalling that the jury asked to hear a readback of testimony regarding Friends of New York Racing, I'm thinking that it just could be that Bruno's conviction, at least on that count (and perhaps the other as well), stemmed in large part from suspicions the jury may have harbored about efforts by Abbruzzese to influence Bruno during the battle for the racing franchise.

That would be ironic, because, as I recall, Bruno remained rather aloof during the Ad Hoc Committee process and even afterwards; and I don't ever recall him expressing any favoritism towards any particular group, Empire included. I thought at the time that maybe he was chastened by the persistent press (and blog) reports of the connection between the two men (as you would think Malcolm Smith would be wary of endorsing AEG).

And, if that's the case, it would also answer the question, which a few readers have recently posed, of just what the hell all of this has to do with racing. Not, of course, that I'm not allowed to write about it even if it doesn't relate at all. But it does.

Personally, I thought that the part of the case which involved Wright Investors (count one) was an even clearer case of Bruno depriving the public of his honest services than his dealings with Abbruzzese. Soliciting business (from which he earned commissions) from unions to whom he did not disclose that arrangement, and, as the prosecution alleged, favoring them in the course of their business before the state. Perhaps the jury didn't find the evidence of the latter to be persuasive. I certainly did.

- The verdict seems not to have damaged Bruno's reputation among his former constituents.

- Bruno resigned his position as the CEO of CMA Consulting. I'm not sure if he'll have to give up his box at Saratoga.

- Very bad weather headed this way; wouldn't be surprised if the Big A is washed out on Wednesday. [UPDATE2: The card is indeed canceled.]

15 Comments:

Anonymous said...

Good Morning Alan

Good pick up on the incorrect reporting of Bruno being found guilty of the $80,000 horse sale to Abbruzzese.

Not the first time you have caught the main stream press out on a major error.

Anonymous said...

Bruno resigned his position as the CEO of CMA Consulting. I'm not sure if he'll have to give up his box at Saratoga.

Not sure if there is truth to this rumor, but I heard in Saratoga this Summer that NYRA had canceled CMA and Bruno's boxes and they had appealed to the Racing and Wagering Board to have them reinstated. Not sure of the outcome of that appeal and whether their boxes were restored.

Anonymous said...

All the bidders have connections in Albany. Who is more connected than Jeff Gural, the Chairman of the SL Green team, not to mention the SL Green executives themselves given their status as a major REIT in NYC? Delaware North has long established connections in Albany and has Pat Lynch as its lobbyist and Jim Featherstonhaugh as a co-owner. Malcolm Smith's connection to Flake is long established and known. AEG also has Turner Construction, one of the largest contractors in the country. Don Peebles has strong connections to Black politics and the Obama Administration, Carl McCall, etc. I am sure that Steve Wynn could pick up the phone to Governor Paterson and the Governor would take his call. I am also sure Penn National is not without is connections as well.

Anonymous said...

8:38 a.m.: The rumor has no credibility. The Board has nothing to do with the issuance or retention of boxes. Such decisions are left to the discretion of the operator.

Anonymous said...

ok. So did Bruno and CMA retain their boxes this summer?

Anonymous said...

Now that the Bruno decision is settled (for now) what are the odds of the Aqueduct decision being made before the Holidays?

Steve Zorn said...

Which holidays would that be? Eid al-Adha in 2014?

Anonymous said...

The odds are probably shorter of 'Aliens' landing in the parking lot at Aqueduct than a decision coming out of Albany anytime soon.........

However strange things have happened with this VLT process, so who knows.......

alan said...

According to sources at NYRA, Bruno's box has not been taken away; and a decision on boxes for next season will be finalized during the second quarter.

jk said...

If Bruno has an NY Horse Owners license he will have to report his conviction to the NYSWB who will then decide if the license will be revoked.

I have never heard of NYRA having any rules banning convicted felons from track grounds.

Anonymous said...

"With Albany still absorbing and evaluating the effect of the verdict which made Joe Bruno a convicted felon, the constitutionality of the "honest services" law under which he was prosecuted was argued in the Supreme Court on Tuesday. And apparently, not very well for the federal government."

One would assume that the court would have to throw out the Bruno conviction if the Supreme Court rules the law unconstitutional. Yes?

If so is the court likely to rule before Bruno's sentencing which I believe is in March.

alan said...

>>One would assume that the court would have to throw out the Bruno conviction if the Supreme Court rules the law unconstitutional. Yes?

If the Court throws the entire law out on its face, I would think yes. However, there are other possibilities.

As far as the timing, there will be no ruling until after the Court hears another challenge, this one from the former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling. There may not be a ruling until the summer.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, the honest services case and horseracing are clearly connected...
From Wiki:
"Through his father's holdings in Ravelston, Conrad Black gained early association with two of Canada's most prominent businessmen: Bud McDougald and E. P. Taylor , president and founder of Argus, respectively. Following McDougald's death in 1978, Conrad Black paid $30-million to take control of Ravelston and thereby, control of Toronto-based Argus."

Anonymous said...

Don Peebles of the Peebles/MGM Aqueduct bid was heard promoting himself, and his connections to President Obama and the President's economic team, today at the Governor's Press Conference on Wall Street.

The Governor and he seemed to be more than friendly with each other.

Does this mean that Peebles is a rising favorite for Aqueduct?

Anonymous said...

Will Governor Paterson announce the Aqueduct VLT operator tomorrow when he is in Queens?

He clearly owes this to the people of Queens and the citizens of New York.