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Court to decide if Bruno can be retried

The federal case against former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno now lies with three seasoned judges in an appeals court.

The tribunal heard arguments Friday from Bruno's defense team and federal prosecutors from Albany, who won a conviction on corruption charges in 2009 only to see the U.S. Supreme Court shred the "honest services" mail fraud law under which the once-powerful Brunswick Republican politician was found guilty.

Both sides agreed Bruno's conviction on two counts of fraud should be tossed after the landmark June 2010 ruling. The Supreme Court found the honest services law unconstitutionally vague while reversing parts of the conviction of Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling.

But prosecutors want to try Bruno again -- and say they don't need new evidence.

"The basic, core parameters would be the same," Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe told Senior Judge Edward R. Korman and judges Barrington D. Parker and Denny Chin during her argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse in Manhattan.

First elected to the State Senate in 1976, Bruno became the state's most powerful Republican lawmaker from 1995 to mid-2008, when he stepped down. The federal indictment followed his retirement.

Bruno, 82, attended the appeals court proceedings, as did his son, Kenneth Bruno, one of his daughters and close friend Kay Stafford.

After a monthlong trial, Bruno was convicted in U.S. District Court in Albany in connection with $280,000 he received from a Loudonville businessman, Jared E. Abbruzzese, between 2004 and 2006.

District Judge Gary L. Sharpe sentenced Bruno to 24 months in prison. He has been free on appeal.

The Skilling decision prevents honest services cases from being prosecuted for a defendant's mere failure to disclose a conflict of interest. Instead, the decision said, proof of a quid pro quo -- specifically a kickback or bribe -- needs to be proven.

Bruno's lawyers say the decision derails the government's case because he was convicted of failing to disclose conflicts.

Defense attorney Abbe D. Lowell told the judges the case cannot be tried again due to insufficient evidence, and that double jeopardy should prevent another trial.

"You can't say over and over and over again, 'This is a nondisclosure case, this is a nondisclosure case,' then say 'What I meant to say' " is, it involved bribes and kickbacks, Lowell argued.

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