The former Republican leader of the New York Senate seems likely to face a retrial after a federal appeals court Wednesday returned his case to a trial judge after agreeing with prosecutors that sufficient evidence remains against him even though his earlier conviction must be tossed out.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, following the lead of a Supreme Court ruling, rejected the conviction of 82-year-old Joseph Bruno. It urged the government to include language in any superseding indictment that there were direct bribes or kickbacks, saying it would be “preferable and fairer.” Prosecutors had alleged only that Bruno used his influence to make money in his sideline consulting business.
Bruno was convicted in 2009 of denying taxpayers honest services by concealing a deal with a business associate who paid him as a consultant. He has remained free pending appeal.
Last year, in the case of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, the Supreme Court found that federal statutes used to fight white-collar and public official fraud only criminalize schemes with proof of bribes or kickbacks.
The 2nd Circuit agreed to return the case to the lower court in Albany, where prosecutors can bring a new indictment. At a new trial, jurors would be given proper instructions on the anti-fraud law, consistent with the Supreme Court findings.
Earlier this year, prosecutors filed court papers seeking another trial for Bruno, the state Senate’s Republican leader for 13 years, saying there was enough evidence to show he received $280,000 in return for taking official actions on behalf of a business associate.
Defense lawyers had asked the appeals court to dismissed charges against Bruno entirely, saying there was insufficient evidence and no crime occurred.
The appeals court said there were sufficient facts in the indictment to support a bribery charge. The 2nd Circuit said a reasonable jury could find that Bruno performed virtually non-existent consulting work for $200,000 in consulting fees between March and November 2004. It said Bruno did not produce any written work product or keep time records during the period, which “could be accepted by a rational jury as evidence that the payments were sham ones.”
The appeals court said there was also sufficient evidence for a jury to convict Bruno of accepting an illegitimate gift, a $40,000 payment for a horse, “Christy’s Night Out.”
Bruno’s lawyers said they would issue a statement later Wednesday. A message was left with prosecutors.
Associated Press Writer Michael Virtanen in Albany contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.