Both the New York Post and the New York Daily News reported that former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno will be reimbursed $2.4 million that he spent defending himself in two federal trials. Post writer Aaron Short calls the reimbursement “a gift” and insists taxpayers are “on the hook” for the payment.
Short and his colleagues are dead wrong. Taxpayers are on the hook for wrongful prosecution and Bruno deserves every penny.
Lets review the facts: The United States Department of Justice spent in excess of $30 million in a nine-year effort to convict Bruno. They destroyed the veteran’s legislator’s ability to make a living and his net worth. In the end, and at great expense, a jury of his peers found him innocent.
When a deeply biased judge and jury convicted Bruno on the vague charge of “theft of honest services,” action by Supreme Court of the United States voided Bruno’s conviction. The trial judge, a drunk who smelled of liquor while presiding according to multiple sources, repeatedly attacked Bruno from the bench, making speeches that betrayed his deep animus for the defendant.
The feds then re-indicted Bruno with no new evidence or fresh witnesses. Constitutional scholar Judge Andrew N. Napolitano called the Federal Appeals Court decision to allow Bruno’s re-indictment a “stunning violation of the principle of double jeopardy.”
Bruno’s re-trial was only briefly delayed when a third of the 84 year-old Bruno’s liver was found to be cancerous and was removed. His attorneys mounted a vigorous and effective defense and he was found not guilty of all charges. The verdict was "a jarring rebuke to prosecutors," according to the New York Times.
Make no mistake – this was about breaking Joe Bruno. The feds doubled down over and over on a weak case, trying to force a sick old man to plead guilty. In the process, they destroyed him financially. Prosecutors even promised to recommend no jail time if he would just plead guilty to something, anything.
Confident he had violated no law, Bruno refused.
To pay for his defense, the former lion of the Senate sold his home and his beloved horses and personally spent $400,000. His campaign committee paid for $1.2 million of his defense and another $500,000 was raised by a legal defense fund. At the end of the witch-hunt, Bruno was wiped out financially.
Cleared of all charges, Bruno is eligible for full reimbursement for his legal expenses according to New York State law. Similarly, Assembly Speaker Manfred Ohrenstein was reimbursed nearly $1 million when he was acquitted on corruption charges in the 1970s. In fact, the law makes it abundantly clear legal fees coming from “any source” will be reimbursed - including Bruno’s own funds, his campaign committee and the legal defense fund.
Bruno has vowed to refund donors to the independently administered legal defense fund devoted to his cause. Importantly, his supporters donated the $1.2 million withdrawn from his campaign fund. Once reimbursed to his account, these funds can be used to advocate the election of candidates for public office. Any of this could be donated to charity.
Bruno cannot put these funds in his pocket and has made it clear that he has no intention of doing so. He is only entitled to the $400,000 he shelled out himself – his life’s savings.
There is no doubt the prosecution of Joe Bruno was “political.” The government’s case against him was weak from the beginning. It got weaker by the moment. Their every move was outrageous: destroying him financially to force a guilty plea; retrying him in violation of his right against double jeopardy; intensifying prosecution in the face of his serious illness.
In a better world, Joe Bruno’s torturers would pay for their wrongful prosecution. But until he and his supporters are reimbursed for every penny spent defending him in this ordeal, justice will not be done.
Now Senator Joe Bruno is writing a book about the awesome, out-of-control power of our justice system, how he defeated the government’s efforts to crush him and his enormous resilience against all odds. He promises not only a glimpse into his hardscrabble early life but also the guiding principles that allowed him to succeed in business and politics.
It’s a Happy New Year, at long last, for Joe Bruno. He’s acquitted of all charges in a wrongful prosecution. His name is cleared; his retirement is intact. All is right with the world, and the people reading this otherwise either don’t know the law, don’t know the case – or they have no sense of fairness.