- Every once in awhile, a detail will emerge in the press to show that the never-ending FBI investigation into the business affairs of Senator Majority Leader Joe Bruno is still....well, never-ending. The Albany Times-Union reports today that two FBI agents recently paid a personal visit to the Legislative Ethics Committee to deliver a federal grand jury subpoena requested opinions issued to Bruno at his request more than ten years ago. This panel is a bipartisan committee which provides lawmakers with opinions and clarifications about ethics rules. The opinions, which, according to the article, were "promptly turned over," deal with Bruno's personal business interests, including real estate development and horse breeding, the Times Union has learned.
Another person close to the investigation said federal authorities are closely examining the process by which Bruno may have received authorization from within state government for his various private business dealings.These opinions are not covered by Freedom of Information laws, but some lawmakers voluntarily reveal them; however, Bruno's office specifically declined to do so.
One of the opinions relates to First Grafton Corp., a secluded Rensselaer County development in which Bruno was a 25-percent investor.
Bruno was a principal of First Grafton until 1992, when his investment in the development group was placed in a trust. That took place around the time he received an opinion from the ethics committee regarding his financial interest in the project, a source close to the committee said.
Another opinion Bruno received from the ethics committee was in connection with the senator's ownership of horses and business dealings with his friend, Columbia County veterinarian Jerry Bilinski.
Two years ago, Bilinski also received a federal grand jury subpoena related to his horse ownership records as part of the investigation of Bruno. [Albany Times Union]
In the past, we've been told that the investigation involved, among other things, Bruno's relationship with Jared Abbruzzese, the Empire Racing co-founder to whom the Senator funneled $500,000 of public money for one of his businesses; and his employment at a Connecticut investment firm that managed money from unions who regularly had matters considered in Albany. Every time you might think it's dead, another story appears; and indeed, the Times Union reports that there has been a flurry of new subpoenas in recent months, and that several people involved with the Senate Majority have retained counsel.
Bruno himself has spent over $200,000 on his own legal bills in the matter; but don't worry, his campaign funds are paying for it.
A 1989 state Board of Elections opinion holds that campaign funds may be used to pay legal expenses of public officers who are the target of a criminal investigation "if the criminal matter arises out of the campaign or the holding of public office."So, when us taxpayers picked up the tab for those disputed helicopter trips to NYC on which Bruno mixed official and campaign-related activities, we were also indirectly paying for his criminal defense lawyer. Very nice.
Bruno was asked by a Times Union reporter at a press conference yesterday if he would release the itineraries of those trips, as former Governor Spitzer and then Lt. Gov Paterson did. He responded:
“Where the hell have you been? Since you guys distorted the news on the front page of your paper, OK, totally distorted the news, lied about my schedule, guess what? I haven’t used state aircraft since I said I wouldn’t. So you want my itinerary? It’s zippo, zero.”You can read more of the exchange, which included the type of language that we thought went out the door with Spitzer, at that Capitol Confidential link.
The reporter reiterated twice that he was interested in the itineraries for the first half of 2007, when indeed the senator was using the State Police helicopter for frequent trips to New York City for himself and his staff, including on days of Republican fund-raisers in Manhattan. [Capitol Confidential]
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation of possible political dirty tricks by the State Police, which grew in large part from the Troopergate affair, has hit a roadblock in the form of missing emails.
..Cuomo said a review of subpoenaed NYPA materials showed that "steps were taken by NYPA personnel to purposefully destroy responsive information, specifically, e-mails on the BlackBerry of Daniel Wiese."Wiese is the police Inspector General, and one of the central figures in Spitzer's efforts to smear Bruno over his trips. Perhaps one of these days, the focus will be on the true nature of those excursions at taxpayer expense rather than any effort to make them public, y'think?
Cuomo said the scrubbing occurred on April 1, the same day the investigation was announced. The NYPA received subpoenas three days later and immediately placed Wiese on paid leave. [NY Daily News]