ALBANY—After Joe Bruno proclaimed his innocence of a federal indictment handed up this afternoon, federal prosecutors and investigators laid out their case against him, and presented another conclusion from their three-year investigation of the former majority leader of the State Senate: the legislative process is "Byzantine."
"The ability to understand the legislative process is difficult at best," said John Pikus, special agent in charge of the Albany division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "There are factors involved in which bills are passed, member items are approved, which never see the light of day. Many of you in the public have tried to get into that arena to see exactly where your money is going. And that, really, from our standpoint, from the F.B.I.'s standpoint, was the problem. We can subpoena. We can provide opportunities for individuals to come in and talk to us, but the legislative process was almost Byzantine."
Pikus and Andrew Baxter, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York, outlined an eight-count indictment against Bruno, in which Baxter alleged Bruno "improperly exploited his official position and concealed conflicts of interest, contrary to state ethics and reporting laws."
Most of the alleged impropriety, Baxter said, centered not on Bruno's specific outside business dealings but on his failure to disclose them. "This indictment does not charge anyone with bribery or extortion," Baxter noted.
Bruno said his prosecution would send a "frightening message to all elected officials who are not wealthy and have to work to make a living."
A reporter read the statement to Baxter, who replied: "It should not create a chilling effect on the state legislators that follow the laws."
UPDATE: Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, issued this statement on the news of Bruno's indictment:
This is an indictment of not only Joe Bruno, but also of New York State's ethics laws. The man who held the highest position of power in the state legislature for years is formally accused of betraying the public interest on behalf of his self interest. Joe Bruno's indictment emphatically highlights the shameful state of New York's ethics laws, graphically demonstrating why the Legislature should not be expected to police the ethics of its own members. Even more disquieting is that the indictment is further proof that, for years, the only meaningful ethics and corruption oversight in New York State is being carried out by federal agents and United States Attorneys. This is a sad day for Joe Bruno, and sadder still for the New York Legislature.