By JOHN McLOUGHLIN
ALBANY, N.Y. — Joe Bruno appears to have gotten a “Get Out of Jail Free” card from the U.S. Supreme Court.
The former Senate Majority Leader had been staring at a two-year prison sentence after being convicted on two counts under the so-called “honest services” statute of federal law. But the Supremes, as many legal experts expected, ruled that the “honest services” statute applies only to bribery and kickbacks and not, as in Bruno's case, to hidden conflicts of interest.
Bruno never was convicted of a bribe or a kickback.
Albany Law School Professor Vincent Bonventre says “some people will probably scream that Joe Bruno is getting away with murder,” but he says that is not the case.
Bonventre says the court, as it has numerous times in the past, has decided that part of the law should never have been used to prosecute something as vague as a conflict of interest. He says it means simply “there is no criminal law that this man has violated.”
Bruno, normally outspoken, was lying low after the decision, trying not to show any public display of celebration before Judge Gary Sharpe can consider whether to vacate both convictions.
Bruno did issue a short statement, saying, “I have maintained my faith and trust in the justice system since the very start and the Supreme Court's decisions reaffirm that belief.”
William Dreyer, Bruno's attorney, was trying to set up a meeting as soon as possible with the judge and the U.S. Attorney's Office to see if the convictions can be tossed out very soon.
NEWS10 placed several phone calls to the U.S. Attorney's office, which spent several years and perhaps several million dollars going after Bruno, but our calls were not returned.
Bruno said earlier that he spent more than $2 million in his defense and he was forced to resign as the top Republican leader in the Legislature, although he claimed he was quitting voluntarily.
Barbara Bartoletti of the New York State League of Women Voters says the court's decision reinforces the need for a strong state statute ruling out the kind of behavior in which Bruno engaged.
Bruno's successor in the Senate, Roy McDonald of Saratoga, told NEWS10 he hopes the decision does mean no jail time for Bruno, saying he's done great things for the Capital Region.