ALBANY — A federal judge has postponed sentencing former New York Senate leader Joseph Bruno on two fraud convictions until May 6 and denied his request for a new trial.
U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe ruled that defense attorneys failed to show the evidence was either nonexistent or unreasonably meager and refused to vacate the convictions. “Where, as here, a defendant challenges a verdict, he bears a heavy burden,” Sharpe wrote.
Attorney William Dreyer requested a monthlong delay to gather materials to present before sentencing, which had been scheduled for March 26. Bruno’s case file has been filling with letters from family, friends and former constituents from Rensselaer and Saratoga counties saying he did good work for New Yorkers and the judge should be lenient.
Dreyer also noted in his request that he and prosecutors have settled Bruno’s forfeiture amount. He did not specify how much money is involved and did not immediately return calls Thursday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe declined to comment.
The judge this week noted that the two convictions involved $240,000 of payments to Bruno from consulting firms and a thoroughbred farm owned by businessman Jared Abbruzzese, though prosecutors said the value of Bruno’s gains from those transactions included another $40,000 in the value of a horse deal.
Bruno was acquitted on five counts, and the jury was undecided on another.
The longtime Republican leader of the state Senate, now 80, retired in 2008. He didn’t testify but repeatedly told reporters that he always put his public duty first, and that as a part-time lawmaker, it was his legal right to pursue outside business interests as a consultant to an investment company, a brokerage and three private businessmen.
Bruno was convicted of honest services fraud, failing in his duty to provide New Yorkers with his honest services while conflicted by outside business interests.
Sharpe again rejected defense challenges to the constitutionality of the honest services statute. However, three challenges in other cases are pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, including the third and final case set to be argued Monday.
Dreyer has said he will appeal Bruno’s convictions. If the top court finds the entire law unconstitutional, Bruno would go free. The justices could strike down only parts of it or uphold it. Its session runs through June.
Monday’s arguments concern the conviction of Jeffrey Skilling, convicted in 2006 of fraud in the collapse of energy company Enron, where he was president. He was convicted of depriving shareholders of his honest services, as well as other counts, and serving a 24-year sentence in federal prison, though an appeals court ruled he should be re-sentenced.
The federal law is often used to prosecute public officials who accept money, free tickets, jobs for relatives or other considerations when bribery cannot be proved. Critics, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, say the 1988 law has been used too broadly against corporate, local and state officials who engage in what Scalia called “any manner of unappealing or ethically questionable conduct.”