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Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Heat Is (Still) On

- Every once in awhile, a detail will emerge in the press to show that the never-ending FBI investigation into the business affairs of Senator Majority Leader Joe Bruno is still....well, never-ending. The Albany Times-Union reports today that two FBI agents recently paid a personal visit to the Legislative Ethics Committee to deliver a federal grand jury subpoena requested opinions issued to Bruno at his request more than ten years ago. This panel is a bipartisan committee which provides lawmakers with opinions and clarifications about ethics rules. The opinions, which, according to the article, were "promptly turned over," deal with Bruno's personal business interests, including real estate development and horse breeding, the Times Union has learned.

Another person close to the investigation said federal authorities are closely examining the process by which Bruno may have received authorization from within state government for his various private business dealings.
One of the opinions relates to First Grafton Corp., a secluded Rensselaer County development in which Bruno was a 25-percent investor.

Bruno was a principal of First Grafton until 1992, when his investment in the development group was placed in a trust. That took place around the time he received an opinion from the ethics committee regarding his financial interest in the project, a source close to the committee said.

Another opinion Bruno received from the ethics committee was in connection with the senator's ownership of horses and business dealings with his friend, Columbia County veterinarian Jerry Bilinski.

Two years ago, Bilinski also received a federal grand jury subpoena related to his horse ownership records as part of the investigation of Bruno. [Albany Times Union]
These opinions are not covered by Freedom of Information laws, but some lawmakers voluntarily reveal them; however, Bruno's office specifically declined to do so.

In the past, we've been told that the investigation involved, among other things, Bruno's relationship with Jared Abbruzzese, the Empire Racing co-founder to whom the Senator funneled $500,000 of public money for one of his businesses; and his employment at a Connecticut investment firm that managed money from unions who regularly had matters considered in Albany. Every time you might think it's dead, another story appears; and indeed, the Times Union reports that there has been a flurry of new subpoenas in recent months, and that several people involved with the Senate Majority have retained counsel.

Bruno himself has spent over $200,000 on his own legal bills in the matter; but don't worry, his campaign funds are paying for it.
A 1989 state Board of Elections opinion holds that campaign funds may be used to pay legal expenses of public officers who are the target of a criminal investigation "if the criminal matter arises out of the campaign or the holding of public office."
So, when us taxpayers picked up the tab for those disputed helicopter trips to NYC on which Bruno mixed official and campaign-related activities, we were also indirectly paying for his criminal defense lawyer. Very nice.

Bruno was asked by a Times Union reporter at a press conference yesterday if he would release the itineraries of those trips, as former Governor Spitzer and then Lt. Gov Paterson did. He responded:
“Where the hell have you been? Since you guys distorted the news on the front page of your paper, OK, totally distorted the news, lied about my schedule, guess what? I haven’t used state aircraft since I said I wouldn’t. So you want my itinerary? It’s zippo, zero.”

The reporter reiterated twice that he was interested in the itineraries for the first half of 2007, when indeed the senator was using the State Police helicopter for frequent trips to New York City for himself and his staff, including on days of Republican fund-raisers in Manhattan. [Capitol Confidential]
You can read more of the exchange, which included the type of language that we thought went out the door with Spitzer, at that Capitol Confidential link.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation of possible political dirty tricks by the State Police, which grew in large part from the Troopergate affair, has hit a roadblock in the form of missing emails.
..Cuomo said a review of subpoenaed NYPA materials showed that "steps were taken by NYPA personnel to purposefully destroy responsive information, specifically, e-mails on the BlackBerry of Daniel Wiese."

Cuomo said the scrubbing occurred on April 1, the same day the investigation was announced. The NYPA received subpoenas three days later and immediately placed Wiese on paid leave. [NY Daily News]
Wiese is the police Inspector General, and one of the central figures in Spitzer's efforts to smear Bruno over his trips. Perhaps one of these days, the focus will be on the true nature of those excursions at taxpayer expense rather than any effort to make them public, y'think?


Anonymous said...

Spitzer's biggest failing was giving Bruno more cover from his own sleazy activities. The Feds are digging deep to look at what seem to be obvious abuse of power and conficts of interest. If only Bruno had been caught with a call girl.....

Anonymous said...

This is the Albany Times Union's on-going smear of Bruno. Every couple of weeks, Jim Odato writes the same story all over again.

Then they follow-up with an editorial that was already in the can when the story appeared.

I'm not a big fan of Bruno, but if he's going to be held to certain standard regardling his outside employment and personal life, so should every other legislator and elected state offical, starting with Shelly Silver and Governor Paterson who provided member item funding to the hospital which employs his wife, who made the connection. Then there's the fact that Paterson lied to the public about his extra-marital actions and we the taxpayers paid for his trysts when he billed the state for his hotel rooms in the Albany area when he has a house in Albany area.

Bruno had an ethics opinion that said his flights were legal. Maybe it was a bad opinion, but they were the rules of the game at the time.

And Silver? What exactly does he do that for his law firm that's worth a reported $1 million a year? We know he has blocked any form of tort reform for the past decade and completely supported the trial lawyers' agenda. His "close" associate Pat Lynch has become a millionaire based on her relationship with Silver.

Wanna bet that her client, Delaware North, ends up as the VLT operator at Aqueduct? Maybe they have the best plan, but if so why do they need Pat Lynch?

I know, because I live in the Capital region that Joe Bruno is the guy who finally gave the area a decent airport even though it's not in his district. I know that he's probably knows and cares more about horse racing than any other member of the legislature. I know that things will be worse if both houses of the legislature go to the Dems.

One party rule worked so well in Bush's first term and a half we should want it in New York State?

Lot's I disagree with too, but this is just a smear by a local paper that likes to get directly involved in liberal politics.

JK, Spitzer's biggest failing is that he was the ultimate in corruption -- hiding behind the image as public crusader and a man of ethics.

Mutaman said...

"I know that things will be worse if both houses of the legislature go to the Dems."

Thanks to Joe and Sheldon, we've got the most "dysfunctional" stae government in the country ( Report of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law). Which of course any horseplayer could have told you.

How the hell could it get any worse?

Alan Mann said...

>>Maybe they have the best plan, but if so why do they need Pat Lynch?

I'd be most interested to know of a connection between Ms. Lynch and Delaware North, but haven't been able to find anything online. If you have anything to refer me to, I'd appreciate it. By the way, she was a lobbyist for Magna early in the franchise process.

Your points are well taken re: Silver and Paterson. And I agree that Bruno is the one guy who cares about the industry. I criticized him towards the end for holding up the process, but in retrospect, he gets all due credit for earning a few extra bucks for the horsemen and at least keeping the OTB issue on the table. But given the way the Justice Department has operated under Bush, I'm thinking there's gotta be something significant there if they've pressed so long and persistently with an investigation against a Republican. Thanks for stopping by and for the comment.

Anonymous said...

The worst part of all of this is the abuse of power by Spitzer and Pataki in employing Wiese as a virtual Gestapo agent of the executive branch. Now that is a real scandal and shouldn't be swept under the carpet by the disinformation campaign being waged against Joe Bruno; Fred Dicker, call your office. Besides, by comparison the Speaker an d many others make Joe Bruno look like a small time operator. Bottom line? Your scandal is much worse than ours, and besides Joe Bruno, all things considered, is the only real friend racing appears to have in Albany. /S/Green Mtn Punter

Anonymous said...




Anonymous said...

here you go Alan -- it's from 2007, because the 2008 reports aren't complied yet. Brian Meara is also a close associate of Silver.

Anonymous said...

Bilinski, for Bruno, wanted Contessa to lead the horsemen into backing Empire - Noe's NYS breeding appointee, D. Brida, later told Contessa that for a $50,000 investment in Empire he would see a $1,000,000 return. Luckily, Gary declined.
(Brida was moved to Albany and his training duties taken over by his wife Julia when the heat came on Noe during the federal investigation into NYRA. Brida had serious info into Noe's practices and Noe wanted him out of town. He had him placed in a powerful position with the NYS Breeding Fund )- Empire was next on Noe's list.
Noe had flyers flowing over NY backstretchs endorsing Bruno every election. It was one big family until Spitzer broke it up. And so the fight began.
Just connect the dots.

Alan Mann said...

Ronnie - Interesting comment, thanks. In the Thacher report on Empire, Contessa claimed that Tim Smith told that to a general meeting of the horsemen a couple of days before his encounter with Brida. Are you the poster who writes frequently about Noe?