Ex-New York Senate Leader’s Conviction Thrown Out on Appeal

Former New York Senate leader Joseph Bruno’s conviction on corruption charges was thrown out by a federal appeals court in a ruling that cited a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in the case of ex-Enron Corp. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling.

Prosecutors said today that they plan to retry Bruno under the legal standard set in the Skilling case.

Bruno, 82, was convicted in 2009 of two counts of mail fraud for defrauding the state of its right to his honest services. A jury in Albany found he failed to disclose conflicts of interest connected to payments he received from people seeking to do business with the state.

The U.S. appeals court in Manhattan today vacated the conviction, following the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Skilling case, which said the honest services law criminalizes schemes involving bribes or kickbacks, not the failure to disclose conflicts of interest.

“The district court did not require the jury to find that Bruno accepted bribes or kickbacks to be convicted of honest services fraud,” U.S. Circuit Judge Barrington Parker wrote on behalf of a three-judge appeals panel. “In light of ‘Skilling,’ this failure to limit honest services fraud to bribes and kickbacks was error.”

‘Not a Crime’

Abbe Lowell and William Dreyer, Bruno’s lawyers, said in a statement today that they’re delighted the court ruled that “Senator Bruno was charged with something that was not a crime.”

“We hope the U.S. Attorney will now let go of its pursuit of this 82-year-old man who has given so much to New York state and suffered for six years under wrongful charges,” they said in the statement.

Prosecutors said they will seek to present a new indictment against Bruno.

“Today, the Court of Appeals held that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that Bruno accepted ‘payments that were intended to and did influence his conduct as a public official,’ and that ‘Bruno’s actions deprived New York citizens of his honest services as a New York senator under the standard announced in “Skilling,”’” the office of U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian in Albany said in a statement today.

Majority Leader

Bruno, a Republican, was elected to the state Senate in 1976 and served until 2008 when he resigned amid a federal corruption investigation. He served as Senate majority leader for almost 14 years. In that position, Bruno was one of the three officials -- along with the governor and the Assembly speaker -- most responsible for shaping budgets and legislation in the state. A minor-league baseball park in Troy, New York, the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, is named after him.

He was indicted in January 2009 on eight criminal counts alleging he used his consulting business to profit from groups and people doing business with the state. After seven days of deliberations, a jury in December 2009 acquitted Bruno of five of the charges, convicting him of two counts of honest-services mail fraud. The jury deadlocked on the eighth count.

On May 6, 2010, U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe sentenced Bruno to two years in prison, allowing him to remain free pending appeal.

After the Supreme Court ruling in the Skilling case, a federal appeals court in New Orleans in April upheld the former Enron executive’s 2006 conviction on charges he deceived investors about the company’s financial condition. Skilling is serving a 24-year sentence in a federal prison in Colorado.

The case is U.S. v. Bruno, 10-1885, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (New York).

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