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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dishonest Services

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 months years since the probe became known publicly that this all may have started when a lobbying investigation into Abbruzzese's jet flights, provided to Bruno around the time that the former was getting involved with Friends of New York/Empire Racing's franchise bid, drew the attention of the FBI.

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.”
“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]
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

Well, I hope Joe beats the rap, and I bet a lot of Albany hacks do, too, albeit for different reasons. During the course of his long legislative career, Joe brought a lot of business and jobs to his district, including a portion of Saratoga County, and was- still is- one of NY racing's most loyal supporters.

And in retirement he is still on the job as an economic developer, still with the same high energy and good humor that characterized the man in his public service years. I trust that his former constituents will well remember the many good things he accomplished during his career.

He was a friend of the little guy and small businessperson, never forgetting where he came from. He was never a man who felt or acted entitled due to his high position and public trust. I did go back and read Alan's June 25 '08 post on the subject and see that Alan has tried to be objective about it,viewing Sen Bruno's problems, at least in part, in the context of "business as usual" in Albany.

In any event, I wish Joe well and hope that he is vindicated by the charges being dismissed and/or a "not guilty" verdict. No matter what the outcome, however, I believe that those who know Joe Bruno, and his long career of public service, will remain loyal to a good man. /s/greenmtnpunter

Anonymous said...


You could have a field day with some of goes.....

I recall "Exonerated" bred by, yep, you guessed it, Joe Bruno, winning at the Spa. Owned by??? Yep, you guessed it, Earle I. Mack. Here is what Steve Crist had to say in a blog post:

"6:40 pm: Would have gotten blown out by the shortest price in the sequence anyway as Exonerated ($7.00) wired the field in the statebred finale, running a strong 8.5f in 1:41.70 on the inner, significantly faster than the two open-company maiden races today at the same course and distance. The Johannesburg filly actually looks worth the $105k that former NYRA trustee Earle Mack paid her breeder, former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, for her at public auction two years ago."

Two years ago, there was a race named after Bruno. Guess what? There was a horse in the race named "Political Force." He was trained by Allen Jerkens. Turned out that Political Force did some bang up races down in Florida, winning a few races, maybe back-to-back-to-back, including stakes. Anyway, "Political Force" may have been the public's favorite the day he ran in "The Senator Joseph Bruno." Bruno was his very smug self in the Spa paddock, walking with head held high and his silver hair perfectly coiffed, wearing a lemon colored sportcoat. "Political Force" ran third that day. The running line may have dug in deep stretch, but could not match winner or runner-up.

"Political Force" had acted up at the gate a year earlier and was a gate scratch in either his debut or some stake foe 2yos. Oh, he was owned and trained by Joseph Allen.

But, back to "Exonerated".......the day Bruno was "exonerated" over 'Troopergate,' he walked again, or is it always (?) with his smug self displaying the arrogance of his alleged Ted Stevens' like wrongdoing.

If Ted Stevens can be brought down, what is not to say Bruno will NOT be "exonerated?"

As for more of Bruno at the Spa. He was in the winner's circle to feed Funny Cide on the day he was paraded before the crowd. In fact, Bruno appeared in the winner's circle a few times for special occasions that same year.

One of these days, maybe NYRA will offer a Spa card with all of the races being named after not just indicted but convicted criminals who once flaunted their brashness. This could include the Midnight Cry Stable owners to the trainer who milkshaked at Aqueduct for the benefit of the mob to, well, maybe Bruno if he is not exonerated.

One thing NYRA would have to do is get Asmussen, Pletcher, Contessa and some other trainers who have had a multitude of positives over this decade is to enter some of their others.

Pletcher could bring "Wait A While" out of retirement since she is the latest of his stable to allegedly have raced with an overage of something.

Jan Rushton could have Terry Meyocks present the winner's trophy and maybe he could say, "I didn't see nothin'." They can have a $1 off special at Restaurant Row and have a giveaway --- free mug shots of all the "winners."

Anonymous said...


What say the taxpayers of Albany, for example, when their mayor is placing bets at the $50 window?

Okay, maybe the guy was at Saratoga, like he always is each July and August, while on vacation.

However, the mayor of Albany has been seen not just in attendance numerous times at the Spa, but at those $50 windows.

What are the ethics of an elected official to place a wager (read: gambling) while "working?"

There are many prime Saratoga boxes allocated to elected officials throughout New York State. So, again, what might be the ethics of an elected official who is in attendance on a race day at Saratoga, sitting in a box with a nameplate reading "Reserved for (title) John Q. Elected-Official."

Does the taxpayer pay for these perfectly allocated boxes? If not, then are the elected officials reimbursing or providing for the costs? If they are, what type of "state or government business" would be considered as appropriate? How does a taxpayer feel when an elected official then saunters up to the $50 window?

It seems as if Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office is getting a lot of flack over the new Yankee Stadium box, the parking spots, and some other things. Will there be equal outrage over the elected officials always getting prime box seats allocated to them because of their status --- if, of course, they are paying for them out of their own pocket.

Anonymous said...

Political Force was beaten in The Senator Joseph L. Bruno, an allowance for 3yo, by Barry K. Schwartz's Star Dabbler.

Exonerated was/is trained H. Graham Motion. And it will be Bruno's lawyers filing several motions over the next few months.

There could always be a match race. Exonerated versus Ninth Client, the Wayne Lukas 3yo named in (dis)honor of Eliot Spitzer, who dead heated for the win in a 2yo inner turf race at Saratoga last summer.

Anonymous said...

Not much question in the eyes of keen NY political observors that Spitzer was behind Bruno's FBI troubles, both at the beginning and the end. Sorry Alan, going against you on this one. Spitzer had both the will and the way via his contact with the prosecutorial world. Who Spitzer engaged to assist his destruction of Bruno will be of some real interest to the NY racing world.

Anonymous said...

Everybody has "Joe" stories, anecdotes etc but bottom line he still produced much more public good than he ever received dough in return. Last Anon's comment right on the mark...must be a lot of nervous hacks in Albany these days, much like those hacks in Chicago are concerned about any fallout raining down on The One. /S/greenmtnpunter

Anonymous said...

Isn't Cuomo's investigation of the NY State Police involvement with the Governor's office still on-going? This may also be the same investigation that examines the NYPD's relationship with the New York Power Authority and the NYPA's plane being used for the Governor's office business and political travels. Bruno may have some interest in how these situations turn out.

SaratogaSpa said...

Anon 4:02 am: If you may remember on opening day 2007 at Saratoga, then Governor Spitzer made a very public display of giving up his box seat at the Track because he believed it did "not look good to the public".

Joe Bruno proudly sat in his own box seat on opening day. Joe, love him or hate him, made a very public display of walking past the opening day crowd, dressed to the nines, as he walked to his seat.

In the end, gotta agree with greenmtnpunter, we knew he was not squeaky clean, but he brought a ton of money into the State and was far less hypocritical than characters such as Spitzer.