June 30, 2008: New York's X Governor Eliot Spitzer must be kicking himself round his Manhattan real estate office. If Spitz had played his cards sharper he could be in Albany watching state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno take flight from the capital sans state-owned helicopter.
Republican Bruno, a spry septuagenarian with a Crisco crest, first took office in 1976. As rep for the 43rd District (which covers a wide swath of the Capital Region) Bruno was a powerhouse of pork. As Majority Leader he was a shot caller for the entire state. His eyes seemed fixed on the perpetual prize. Surprise surprise. On June 24th Joe Bruno announced he was resigning as Majority Leader and wouldn't seek re-election to the Senate. Buzz says a long term FBI investigation that's finally starting to pop played a part in the decision. Bruno denies the allegation and resents the alligators.
Senator Bruno and Governor Spitzer weren't pals either. When Democrat Spitz took office in 2007 (after serving as attorney general under Republican Governor George Pataki) the second thing on his to-do list was “Get Bruno”. The first was “Call Emperors Club VIP”. Emperors Club supplied Spitzer with hookers. QAT International,
a money-laundering entity DBA in New York State since the 1980's, washed his payments. In March 2008, feds in the Southern District of New York (their beat is downstate) indicted personnel from Emperors Club and QAT. Spitzer's ho habit was revealed; he resigned soon after. The public said go go go. Among the issues leading to their lack of support was Spitzer's strong arm attempt to grant drivers licenses to illegal aliens-- and the mess known as Troopergate.
In Spring 2007 top Spitzer aides had leaked reports to the Albany Times-Union about Senator Joe Bruno's use of state-owned cars and helicopters for trips to political fundraisers. (Some government biz was included in the agenda.) The aides were apparently acting with Spitzer's potty mouth imprimatur*. Misuse of state vehicles was a hot issue. The state comptroller had recently been forced out of office over similar charges under the threat of prosecution by the Albany County D.A. (The same D.A. ultimately conducted two investigations of Troopergate. The first, done when Spitz was in office, cleared the governor. The second, done after his fall, did not.) But any thought Bruno might follow the comptroller vanished when the scandal shifted from misuse of state vehicles to misuse of power. Seems state trooper officials close to the governor's office played an unseemly role in producing Bruno's travel records and in feeding back-up info to the press. Spitzer denied having a hand in the plan to discredit Bruno and dodged official inquiries. Since Governor Spitzer won office as a reformer his misuse of police power was that much more of a disappointment. But the real devil was in the cover-up.
If only Spitzer had fessed immediately, maybe with an aw shucks line about going too far in an effort to protect taxpayers, he might have survived the hooker thing and in a few months been rid of Joe Bruno without lifting a finger. Imagine the scatological fun Spitzer and his aides could have had chortling over the reheated FBI probe!
News of the Bruno investigation initially broke in early 2006. Details emerged in drips and drabs. Feds in the Northern District of New York (upstate is their beat) were said to be looking at Bruno's home based consulting firm Capital Business Consultants, as well as real estate deals involving Bruno, some family members, and buddy Jared Abbruzzese, part owner of Evident Technologies a nano-tech company in the Capital Region. Also at issue was half a million dollars in state funds Bruno funneled to Evident through the quasi-public Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).
The ESDC is neither fish nor fowl; less accountable to the public than an actual government agency and less subject to market realities than private enterprise. These features, combined with the power to dispense billions in federal and state funds, bond for debt, grant extensive tax breaks, override local land use laws, and take private property through eminent domain, makes the ESDC one of New York's most powerful honey pots. Its boosters claim the ESDC is a revitalizer bar none. Critics see it as a culture-of-corruption breeder that turns public servants into Pez dispensers and gives the competitive edge to those willing to curry political favor by any means necessary.
But back to Joe Bruno.
After the initial flurry it seemed as if the FBI investigation of Bruno was going nowhere. Conspiracy freaks suspected a fix. (Incredible what wacky stuff folks spin when living in politically airless places.) Then, in early 2008, a flurry of subpoenas were delivered to various Capital Region union locals. Including Teamsters Local 294 and Laborers Local 190. (Note to history buffs: many colorful tales re Laborers Local 190 and alleged upstate mob figures and actual Albany pols can be found via search engines.) Seems the feds were seeking records related to union pension fund investments placed with Wright Investors' Service in Milford, Connecticut. The New York Times in an 02/04/08 article (Investigation Into Bruno Broadens) claimed that a number of trustees of the pension funds invested with Wright had long time political relationships with Senator Joe Bruno. Bruno was employed by Wright and its parent the Winthrop Corporation until late 2007. Bruno signed on with Wright/Winthrop in the mid 1990s after becoming Senate Majority Leader. Job title at Wright? Business development agent. Duties and salary unknown. The New York State legislature doesn't put much store in disclosure.
Allegedly, the records of financial consultants serving as middlemen for the union pension fund investments are also being examined. According to The New York Sun (Probe of Bruno Extends to Smith Barney Broker 03/06/08) one broker is employed at the Albany office of Smith Barney, a division of Citigroup. Job title: Vice President Wealth-Management. Until recently said VP was listed on the website of the Eastern Contractors Association (ECA) as a member of the group's board of directors**. The ECA is a trade association for all segments of the regional construction industry.
As 2008 moved along the feds were busy bees in Albany. On June 6th, the FBI raided the offices of prominent lobbyist William Powers, former chairman of the state Republican Party. Reports say the raid wasn't Bruno related; the probe of Powers is about influence peddling in DC. Still, it's easy to imagine some future intersection. In the tight little ship of NY pols separation is far less than six degrees.
On June 24th Joe Bruno made his announcement about resigning as Senate Majority Leader and not seeking re-election. Just hours earlier the FBI had visited his offices and departed with some 30 boxes of records dating back to the mid 1990's. If that isn't hot enough for you the Justice Department is said to be considering having federal agents and prosecutors from the Southern District of New York join the jamboree originally launched by feds in the Northern District. Sadly, Glenn T. Suddaby, the U.S. Attorney for the great Northern, may not be in on the denouement of the case he's worked on for so long. Suddaby is up for appointment as a federal judge. Southern District feds goin' north could include Boyd Johnson
from the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan. His beat is public corruption. Credits include the ongoing investigation of X Governor Eliot Spitzer's money-laundered hoedowns.
Speaking Spitz, as state attorney general he seemed clueless when it came to public corruption. There he was, in the belly of the beast, and all he seemed to see were the Evil Ones on Wall Street and clouds of factory smoke drifting in from the Midwest. And though he often inveighed against predatory lenders, organized mortgage fraud rings working inner city nabes in the Capital Region did so under his nose.
For about a week after news of the Spitzer scandal broke nobody knew for sure if he was going to resign. There was speculation that his attorneys were attempting to cut a deal in which the governor's resignation would be traded for no prosecution. When Senator Bruno resigned a similar story went round. The Daily News reported that Bruno's attorney had made a feeler call to the feds to see if Bruno's resignation could help make the investigation go away. His attorney denies the allegation and resents the alligators.
As said, Bruno and Spitzer weren't pals. But there does seem to be an inexorable connection between the two men. Sure, one is a downstate Democrat and the other an upstate Republican and they give the impression they detest each other. But you know the old saying about the line between love and hate. It wouldn't be a total surprise to wake up one morning and discover Spitzer and Bruno had hijacked a state-owned helicopter and flown off together to some fed-free paradise in the sun.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
*After Spitzer resigned, top aide Darren Dopp testified to Albany County D.A. David Soares that Spitzer said he wanted the travel reports “shoved up his [Bruno's] ass with a red hot poker”. The language cited by Dopp is consistent with accounts by other people of other tirades by Spitzer.
**As of late June, Google cache still brings up the Eastern Contractors Association board member list referenced by the New York Sun 03/06/08 article “Probe of Bruno Extends to a Smith Barney Broker”.
Sources include but are not limited to:
Sources: Bruno probe may move, Robert E. Kessler and James Madore, Newsday, 06/26/08
Retirement won't end FBI probe, Brendan J. Lyons, Albany Times-Union 06/25/08
Joe Bruno wanted to know if quitting would affect U.S. probe – source, Kenneth Lovett, Albany Bureau Chief, Daily News, 06/24/08
FBI Albany Raid Seen As Part of Wider Probe, Jacob Gershman, New York Sun, 06/11/08
Lobbying Investigation Prompts Raid of Albany Firm, Danny Hakim, New York Times, 06/11/08
Bruno's labor ties probed, James M. Odato, Albany Times Union, 02/03/08
Bruno Resigns from Wright Investors' Service, The Business Review (Albany), 12/21/07
Albany lobbyist: Investigators asked for records in Bruno probe, Mark Johnson, The Post Star, 12/20/06
Feds Probe Joe, Fredric U. Dicker, New York Post, 12/20/06
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