Prosecutors ended their case against former state Senate leader Joseph Bruno with testimony Friday from a friend and business associate who said he hired the longtime Republican lawmaker as a consultant for his contacts and the credibility he lent.
Bruno faces eight fraud counts in a trial that has lasted three weeks and is expected to reach the jury Monday. He's accused of using his state influence to enrich himself and deny New Yorkers his honest services.
On Friday, technology investor Jared Abbruzzese, testifying with immunity from prosecution except perjury, said Bruno first approached him about consulting while they flew home on a private plane from West Palm Beach, Fla., following a golf weekend in early 2004.
"I wanted him for his Rolodex,'' Abbruzzese said, though he rejected Bruno's initial request for $30,000 a month.
"He started talking about Sheldon Silver and how Sheldon Silver was getting paid 40, 50, 60 thousand a month from the trial lawyers association," Abbruzzese said on the stand, reports the Post.
The senator guided Abbruzzese on improving his skills in dealing with people, had no fixed consulting schedule and didn't produce any written work, he said.
Among the people Abbruzzese consequently met were a Florida developer building a casino, billionaire Donald Trump and a man who owned 300,000 acres in the Catskills. Abbruzzese said he was considering branching into designing golf courses with his friend the golfer Greg Norman but didn't do it.
Abbruzzese, whose main business was fixing troubled technology companies, said Bruno was paid $20,000 a month for 18 months, totaling $360,000.
The monthly cost was within the range of what he was paying 10 or 15 other consultants, he said, and he later agreed to pay Bruno $80,000 for an undersized racehorse after the consultancy ended four months early.
Bruno was initially paid by two Abbruzzese consulting companies, then by Motient Corp. and its subsidiary TerreStar Networks, which were seeking additional investors and Federal Communications Commission permission for terrestrial application of wireless satellite spectrum rights, succeeding in 2005.
"Motient was a story,'' Abbruzzese said. "I used Senator Bruno to build credibility at visual presentations.''
That included taking him along on a trip to Washington, D.C., to see officials from the Republican National Committee, he said, and at three New York City dinners that included institutional investors.
After that company's new chief executive suddenly canceled Bruno's TerreStar consulting contract, Abbruzzese said he felt "a moral obligation'' to Bruno. They were also involved in a joint thoroughbred breeding venture, and Abbruzzese agreed to pay $80,000 for a colt that never developed into a racehorse and that he ultimately gave away for free.
The defense presented a handful of witnesses who testified about Bruno's integrity and that other state officials were instrumental in grant funding awarded to Evident Technologies, another company with Abbruzzese as an investor. Bruno sponsored $500,000 in direct grants and $2.5 million for Russell Sage College to help build a business incubator space with Evident as its tenant for three years.
Bruno said during a midday recess he's a businessman and a part-time legislator and had earned his pay.
"I had a perfect right to do business based on my experience and my background,'' he said. "And there isn't any government entity ... in the United States of America that dictates the value between business parties as to what they appraise to be the value. Whatever your value is is between you and whatever person you're making the arrangement with.''
He told U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe he was not going to testify. Closing arguments are planned Monday.
The judge told jurors they'll probably get the case then, after he instructs them about the law under which Bruno is charged.