Like scores of other New York lawmakers who note that their jobs, with a $79,500 base salary, are considered part-time, former Senate Republican leader Joe Bruno did outside work for people with an interest in the state government.
That premise will be tested like never before in the Republican's political corruption trial, begun Monday, in which much of Albany's notorious mixing of deals and politics will also be aired publicly.
Defense attorney Abbe David Lowell, in opening statements Monday at Bruno's federal corruption trial, told the 12 jurors and four alternates that the government touches virtually every facet of business and it would be "impossible" to avoid those circumstances.
"He was hired to make connections and open doors. This was perfectly allowed. That's all Mr. Bruno did," Lowell said. Maybe the law should be changed, but that's legal in New York, he said.
Lowell said his client, in charge of the state Senate's Republican majority for 14 years until his retirement in 2008, didn't pressure anyone to make the deals that paid him commissions.
Bruno, 80, is charged with eight counts of wire and mail fraud, accused of using his state influence to enrich himself and thereby depriving New Yorkers of honest services.
The senator depended on Senate ethics lawyers for guidance in reporting his outside activities, while establishing consulting companies for tax and other technical reasons, Lowell said. "The uncontradicted evidence in this case will show there were no exchanges of any kind for official action for any payment," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe said the case concerns "failure to disclose" and "concealing." Prosecutors allege Bruno received $3.2 million in commissions over 13 years from 11 of 15 unions he solicited to put their funds with Wright Investors Service, as well as brokerage commissions, plus payments from three businessmen.
On his financial disclosure forms, where Bruno should have clearly disclosed his financial relationships and conflicts of interest, he simply listed his companies, Business Consultants and Capital Business Consultants LLC, Coombe said.
"You will learn that neither of these companies was any more than an empty shell," she said.
Bruno told reporters earlier, during a lunch break after the jury was selected, that he was looking forward to getting on with the trial and being acquitted.
"I feel I've done nothing wrong," he said.
Bruno seized the Senate's majority leadership post in a 1994 overthrow. He retired in July 2008 after more than 30 years representing an Albany-area district.
The case continues with prosecution witnesses Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe told jurors that to convict Bruno, they would have to find that he devised a scheme to defraud, deprived others of his honest services, made material misrepresentations and used interstate mails and wires in the scheme.
Bruno's annual state pension is $93,548, according to the state comptroller's office. It's guaranteed by the state constitution and he'll keep it if convicted.