Joe Bruno’s acquittal is an indictment of New York’s political system.
When the system is corrupt, as it is in New York, then the corrupt cannot get convicted.
Legislators write the laws, and New York’s laws have been written to give legislators leeway to commit acts that under any commonsense interpretation would be crimes.
Joe Bruno, a native of Glens Falls and the former majority leader of the state Senate, was acquitted last week of political corruption charges. There was strong evidence Mr. Bruno was, indeed, corrupt.
But we also believe he was not guilty of breaking state law, because the laws themselves, fashioned by legislators for the benefit of legislators, are corrupt.
Take a look at what is happening now that Bruno has been acquitted: He is moving to sue the state for his legal fees. No one else accused of a crime by a public prosecutor can do this, but state law allows public officials found not guilty to sue to recover their legal fees.
While he was majority leader, Bruno acted as a consultant to a Loudonville businessman, Jared Abbruzzese, who paid him $20,000 a month. Over several years, Abbruzzese paid Bruno about $360,000, as well as $80,000 for a horse Abbruzzese later gave away. Abbruzzese also showered Bruno with gifts, such as rides on his private jets.
Abbruzzese hasn’t talked about what he got in return for his money. But as prosecutors pointed out, during the time Bruno was in power, Mr. Abbruzzese benefited from the state’s largesse. One of his companies, Evident Technologies, received state grants of $250,000 and $1.5 million.
We believe having Bruno on his payroll was valuable in itself to Abbruzzese. Imagine how impressive that must have been to clients and business partners — “I’ll just call my guy. He’s the Senate majority leader.”
But conflicts of interest — even glaring, obscene conflicts like getting paid by a businessman who is applying for state grants you control — are not illegal in New York.
To convict Joe Bruno, prosecutors had to prove the cash he received from Abbruzzese was meant as bribes, to influence Bruno to act in specific ways on specific matters. Not surprisingly, prosecutors were unable to make legally sufficient connections between Bruno’s actions as a legislator and payments from Abbruzzese.
Bruno worked as a consultant for other clients with state interests. As with other state legislators, the overlap between his work outside the Legislature and his work inside it was rich with conflicts of interest.
Other legislators who are lawyers, unlike Bruno, have been able to keep their outside work hidden from the public by funneling it through law firms. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver does that.
We briefly had hope Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Moreland Commission he established last year to investigate public corruption would force these arrangements into the light. The commission was calling for legislators to reveal the names of their law clients, and despite yelping from the Legislature, it looked like these lists would be made public.
Then in March, Cuomo suddenly shut the commission down as part of a deal on the state budget.
The Moreland Commission’s work became a bargaining chip in the casino of New York politics. Mr. Cuomo is a high roller in that world, and we were naive to think he would ever put cleaning up the system above gaining political advantage.
Whether you are a Republican like Bruno or a Democrat like Silver and Cuomo, the party of money rules Albany.
Mr. Bruno was raised in a big, poor Italian family in Glens Falls. He went to St. Mary’s school, where in 2005, he was honored as a distinguished graduate. A longtime teacher at the school, Sister Marcia Allen, presented him with the award and the community’s blessing.
Now our native son, after being accused of political corruption, has been acquitted of committing any crimes. We would feel better if New York held politicians like Joe Bruno to a higher standard. We would feel better if corruption led to convictions, but we don’t expect that — not in a system where those at the center of the corruption are also the ones writing the laws.
Local editorials represent the opinion of the Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Ralph Wilson.