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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of New York

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bruno Acquitted Of Honest Services Mail Fraud Involving Bribery

ALBANY, NEW YORK – A federal jury in Albany found Joseph L. Bruno, the former New York State Senate Majority Leader, not guilty of honest-services mail fraud following a two week trial before the Honorable Gary L. Sharpe, Chief United States District Judge.

Today’s verdict follows a prior trial and two appeals. In December of 2009, a jury convicted Bruno of carrying out a scheme to defraud the State of New York and its citizens of the right to his honest services by soliciting private business from, and entering into financial relationships with, persons or entities who were pursuing interests before the New York State Legislature or other state agencies, and concealing and failing to disclose the existence and true nature of such financial relationships, and the resulting conflicts of interest, while taking discretionary official actions benefitting parties with whom he had those relationships. Then, in 2010, the United States Supreme Court decided United States v. Skilling, holding that the honest services statute criminalizes only fraudulent schemes involving bribes or kickbacks.

On November 16, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an opinion vacating Bruno’s conviction and authorizing a retrial, as requested by the United States. The Court of Appeals noted that the jury had been instructed pursuant to the law in effect at the time of the trial, which had not required bribery or kickbacks to constitute honest services fraud, but the subsequent Skilling decision had changed the law. In determining that a retrial was proper, the Court of Appeals reviewed the case against the elements of honest services fraud as altered by Skilling and held that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that Bruno engaged in a quid pro quo bribery scheme under the standard announced in Skilling.

On May 3, 2013, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment, and Bruno filed a motion to dismiss that indictment on double jeopardy grounds. Chief Judge Sharpe denied the motion, and Bruno filed an interlocutory appeal denied by the Second Circuit on August 6, 2013.

United States Attorney Hartunian said, “Although this was not the outcome we expected based on the evidence presented, we believe that justice is served when a case is fully and fairly adjudicated before an impartial, attentive jury who listened to facts that were presented and tested by talented lawyers on both sides of the issue; that is what happened here, and we accept the jury’s verdict. We bring cases based on the facts and the law, not popularity or other good works, and we do not shy away from difficult cases, especially those involving the conduct of public officials who intertwine personal business and the public trust. No less than the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit examined this case and found that there was sufficient evidence of a quid pro quo bribery scheme for a reasonable jury to convict Mr. Bruno on these counts. As the history of this case demonstrates, whether Mr. Bruno’s conduct constituted a federal crime needed to be decided by a jury.”

The investigation which led to this indictment was conducted by the Albany Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The United States was represented in this prosecution by Assistant United States Attorneys Elizabeth C. Coombe and William C. Pericak.

Updated January 29, 2015