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Grand jury winding down review of Bruno case

A file photo of State Sen. Joseph Bruno

A file photo of State Sen. Joseph Bruno enters the federal courthouse in Albany to face an indictment handed down Jan. 23, 2009. Photo Credit: AP

ALBANY -- A federal grand jury in Albany is nearing the end of its review into kickback allegations involving former State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, who is facing new charges after a federal appeals court vacated his felony conviction in November.

Justice Department officials pledged to seek a new indictment of Bruno after the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction on two counts of honest services fraud.

Federal prosecutors, who had six months to bring new charges, conceded Bruno's first conviction could not stand after the U.S. Supreme Court said a crime of honest services fraud must include a bribe or kickback, not just a failure to disclose a conflict of interest.

Bruno (R-Brunswick), 83, was one of New York's three most powerful lawmakers, but has largely dropped from public life to a more subdued role as a semiretired business consultant since stepping down as a state senator four years ago. His supporters have urged the federal government to abandon their investigation, citing Bruno's age; public service, including his military service as a combat veteran; and his declining health.

But prosecutors have remained steadfast. They noted that the 2nd Circuit's unanimous decision pointed to the strength of their evidence and allowed the government to seek a new indictment on allegations that Bruno received kickbacks from people who had an interest in his legislative muscle.

In recent weeks, a smattering of witnesses who testified at Bruno's 2009 criminal trial have gone before the new grand jury. They include former Loudonville businessman Jared E. Abbruzzese, whose financial and political dealings with Bruno were at the center of Bruno's first conviction.

It was Bruno's use of private jets supplied by Abbruzzese, his horse-breeding partner, that sparked the FBI's investigation in late 2005. Bruno was flown to Kentucky horse country, New York City and exclusive Florida golf resorts -- including trips that were largely bankrolled by Abbruzzese.

Under the code name "Operation Green Pastures," FBI agents and federal prosecutors spent several years building a criminal case against Bruno, withstanding fierce behind-the-scenes pressure not to pursue the case.

Bruno resigned from his Senate position in the summer of 2008 as the FBI investigation intensified. He used more than $2 million in campaign contributions to fight the charges and built a defense team that included Washington, D.C., attorney Abbe D. Lowell and William Dreyer, an Albany attorney and former federal prosecutor.

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