Bruno Taps Campaign Funds for Defense

Friday, Oct 30, 2009  |  Updated 7:34 PM EDT
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Bruno Taps Campaign Funds for Defense

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Bruno, 80, who retired last summer, faces eight fraud counts, accused of collecting commissions and gifts in return for using his state influence to benefit unions and businessmen.

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Campaign records show former New York Senate leader Joe Bruno has spent more than $633,000 in campaign funds on criminal lawyers to prepare for his trial Monday.
    
Separately, a legal defense fund has been soliciting online for charitable donations to help him, though state records show no such charity.

     An attorney for the fund, Lora Como, said it filed this summer for an exemption from registration as a charity with the state attorney general "because we exist solely for the relief of an individual.'' In September, they filed papers with the Department of State as a nonprofit corporation, she said.
    
Bruno, 80, who retired last summer, faces eight fraud counts. He is accused of collecting $3.2 million in commissions and gifts over 13 years in return for using his state influence to benefit a dozen unions and three businessmen.
    
The former Republican lawmaker said he expects to be found innocent of the charges, which in January followed a three-year investigation, and that he simply did legitimate sideline work as a consultant for which he got paid.
    
Reports from the Committee to Re-Elect Senator Bruno show payments of $434,000 to the two law firms of his defense team, William Dreyer and Abbe David Lowell, in the first six months of this year. That followed some $11,000 paid to Dreyer's firm the year before from the campaign fund and about $188,000 in 2007.
    
The fund showed a remaining balance of $712,751 in July. Other New York lawmakers have used campaign funds to pay for criminal defenses, which is legal.
    
The separate Joe Bruno Legal Defense Fund said on its Web page that it is an Albany-based "charity register in accordance with laws of New York,'' that it "can legally accept contributions of any size from individuals, corporations, partnerships, businesses and unions,'' and post-trial leftovers will go "to an accredited charity.'' A linked Facebook page has a posting saying that it raised $44,000 by Sept. 18.
    
Bruno spokesman Kris Thompson said the defense fund filed incorporation papers Sept. 29 with the Department of State.
    
The state Attorney General's Charities Bureau shows no such fund among some 50,000 listed nonprofits required to register.
    
Emily Browne, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the bureau was not aware of any individual legal defense funds registered as charities in New York state.

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