Joseph L. Bruno, a Rensselaer County Republican who rose from poverty to a pinnacle of power as the New York State Senate majority leader, but fell from grace when he spent a decade fighting corruptions charges of which he was ultimately acquitted, died late Tuesday October 6 2020 at his home in Brunswick, N.Y. He was 91.
A Korean War veteran, regimental boxer and millionaire businessman, Mr. Bruno was a state senator for nearly 32 years, from 1977 to 2008, and majority leader during his last 13 years in office. Near the end of his tenure, he doubled as acting lieutenant governor for three months after Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sex scandal and was succeeded by Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson.
In December 2009, he was convicted in Albany federal court of two counts of fraud for concealing $280,000 in payments from Jared E. Abbruzzese, a capital-area entrepreneur who had sought his help for various ventures, including a nanotechnology company.
Mr. Bruno was acquitted on five other counts, and the jury could not reach a verdict on a sixth. Mr. Bruno, who did not testify but insisted that he had done nothing wrong, was sentenced to two years in prison. A month later, the United States Supreme Court, in an unrelated case, whittled down the law under which he was convicted, saying it could not be used to prosecute defendants for hiding conflicts of interest, although the court left open the possibility of cases based on kickbacks or bribery. Prosecutors conceded that Mr. Bruno’s conviction might not stand, but insisted that a retrial was justified, citing evidence that he took kickbacks.
Mr. Bruno’s lawyers appealed to overturn the conviction and bar any retrial. They said the original case had focused squarely on nondisclosure, as opposed to kickbacks or bribery. In November 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York overturned Mr. Bruno’s conviction but rejected his request to bar a retrial.
Prosecutors in Albany obtained a new indictment in May 2012, accusing Mr. Bruno of taking $440,000 in bribes and kickbacks disguised as $360,000 in consulting fees, and $80,000 for a worthless racehorse. Mr. Bruno pleaded not guilty and was released in his own recognizance. In May 2014, a federal court in Albany found him not guilty of fraud charges,
Joseph Louis Bruno was born on April 8, 1929, in Glens Falls, one of eight children of Vitaliano and Catherine (Ricciardelli) Bruno. His father was an Italian immigrant laborer who never learned to read English. In 1951, he married Barbara Frasier. The couple had four children, who survive him: Joseph, Susan, Kenneth and Catherine. Mrs. Bruno died in 2008.
Mr. Bruno is also survived by Kay Thompson, his longtime partner; five siblings, Florence, Arthur, Anthony, Robert and Vito Bruno; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.