New York State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s outside employment as a union pension manager has been neither a secret nor a crime. But the possibility his clients have created conflicts of interest have prompted federal authorities to step up action initiated over a year and a half ago. According to court documents, the Department of Justice (DOJ) sometime around the end of January subpoenaed leaders of the pension and welfare fund of an upstate local of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA). FBI investigators think there is a link between the union’s affairs and certain business dealings of the Milford, Conn.-based Wright Investors Service, part of a holding company, Winthrop Corporation. Senator Bruno for over a decade has handled accounts for the financial-services firm. As reported in Union Corruption Update this past December, Bruno was a pension manager for several labor unions. Since then, however, Bruno resigned his position in the firm, apparently weary of public scrutiny. As things stand, he might receive more.
Bruno, 78, a resident of Brunswick, N.Y., in Rensselaer County, is the state’s top Republican official. For most if not all of the time since becoming GOP leader, he’d earned a second income as a business development agent for Winthrop/Wright. This in itself is not illegal. New York legislators are allowed to double-dip if they can demonstrate no conflict of interest. But Bruno’s situation, the DOJ believes, merits a closer look. Indeed, he already had been the subject of an FBI investigation since mid 2006, something he acknowledged later that December. A grand jury, relying on an inquiry by the state’s lobbying commission, was focusing on the relationship between Bruno and an Albany-area businessman, Jared Abbruzzese, the latter since 2000 having contributed more than $70,000 to New York Republicans. Among other donations, he allegedly made corporate jets available to Bruno, and hired him as a consultant.
The union connection thus far is the Albany, N.Y.-based LIUNA Local 190, one of Bruno’s clients. The local during the latter half of the Nineties had been under a federal racketeering investigation. In 1998, an internal union hearing determined that then-Business Manager Sam Fresina, along with three members of a political action committee (PAC) he controlled, had violated union ethics rules two years earlier in authorizing a $221,000 payment to Salvatore Lanza, a PAC administrator who had been tossed out of his own union, the Mason Tenders District Council in New York City, for racketeering and associating with organized crime figures. Fresina resigned from his post in August 1998, in the wake of a growing focus by the international union’s disciplinary attorney, Robert Luskin.
That’s all in the past – or is it? James Long, current lawyer for the union, said Local 190 leaders received a subpoena on Wednesday, January 30 concerning Sen. Bruno’s activities. The officials have until February 14 to produce requested financial records. Long indicated that the union intends to cooperate. Senator Bruno, for his part, insists he has done nothing wrong. John McArdle, a spokesman for the Senator, did not comment on whether his client had been served with a subpoena or whether the FBI had requested information about his work with Wright, Winthrop or Capital Partners Consulting, the latter a firm that Bruno operates. “Sen. Bruno has cooperated fully and completely with the inquiry and ended his employment with Wright Investors Service last year,” he said. A statement by Wright management noted, “Bruno has assured us…that relevant authorities concluded that his business relationship with us posed no substantive conflict-of-interest rules.” More than a few people may be keeping their fingers crossed. (Newsday.com, 2/3/08; Albany Times-Union, 5/10/98).