ALBANY, N.Y., May 16 (UPI) -- Former New York State Senate President Joseph Bruno was acquitted Friday at his second trial on charges of taking bribes disguised as consulting fees.
Bruno, 85, surrounded by family and supporters, presided at a celebratory lunch in a private room at Jack's Oyster House, a century-old restaurant in Albany, the city where he was once one of the most powerful Republican leaders. The jury delivered the verdict early Friday afternoon after beginning deliberations Thursday afternoon.
Federal prosecutors said that Bruno took payments of $20,000 a month from Jared E. Abbruzzese that were described as consulting fees but were actually payoffs for using his political clout on Abbruzzese's behalf. Abbruzzese also allegedly paid Bruno $80,000 for a horse that had been insured for only $10,000.
Bruno, who resigned from the Senate in 2008 as the investigation gathered steam, was convicted in 2009 and given a two-year sentence. The conviction was overturned.
"There should never have been a retrial. Never! That was persecution, not prosecution," he said.
Bruno's lawyer charged in his closing argument that federal prosecutors wanted a big "scalp." U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian denied that and said the decision to continue the prosecution was justified even though jurors clearly decided the case had not been proved.
A lifelong resident of upstate New York, Bruno got into politics as a campaign staffer for the late Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. He was elected to the state Senate from Rensselaer County in the Albany area in 1976 and served as temporary president, majority leader and acting lieutenant governor.