At one point in time – around when magistrates were hunting witches in Salem Mass. – it was common to torture those accused of a crime until they confessed.
Now-a-days, the stocks in the village square are replaced by leaks to newspapers and floggings are replaced by financial ruin. If in the cross hairs of the federal government it’s just as easy to plead guilty than suffer the consequences of fighting the charges. Guilt or innocence may not even factor in.
Of course, I’m referring to former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno who goes back on trial Monday. He has thus far withstood the modern day tools of torture and rather than take a plea – I’m, told he could have gotten off with a slap on the wrist, saved some of the more than $3 million he’s going to spend and not go to jail – he is continuing the fight.
Everyone reading this knows the story but to recap:
Bruno was indicted on eight counts of theft of honest services that did not include bribery. Before his first trial was set to start, the U.S. Supreme Court opted to hear a challenge to the theft of honest services statute. After he was convicted on two of the eight counts, the Supremes ruled the statute too broad and as such unconstitutional unless if included bribery or kickbacks. Basically, theft of honest services was employed by the feds when they suspected something was afoul but didn’t have any hard evidence to back it up so they would indict on bullshit and implement the tools of torture to get a guilty plea.
Thanks to the Supremes, Bruno won Round I. The feds, in their infinite wisdom, rather than letting it go and saving some taxpayer money – the investigation and prosecution is estimated to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million - indicted Bruno for doing the same thing but changed the charges around to include bribery.
(As an aside, speaking of taxpayer money, where are the other area representatives in Washington – Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Paul Tonko, Chris Gibson. In every other instance they jump through hoops – and even elbow each other out of the way - to bang the drum about wasting taxpayer money.)
Many screamed double jeopardy but this is the federal government and there is no higher power to appeal. The cliché is “you can’t fight city hall,” but try fighting Washington with its bottomless pockets and endless resources. Most just don’t have means or the heart.
Another reason to take a plea is that Bruno is 85 years old is coming off his second round against cancer and will go to jail if he’s convicted. If history is any indication, Judge Gary Sharpe not only won’t do Bruno any favors but will likely side with the prosecution on about every ruling he has to make. Knowing the Supremes were going to weigh in on theft of honest services, the judge went ahead with the first trial anyway so don’t expect him to do anything but put Bruno behind bars pending a certain appeal should the jury convict.
Christ, the judge already put a gag order on Bruno to avoid the daily press conferences Bruno held during the first trial. Sharpe must think stifling First Amendment rights is more favorable than having Bruno make him look bad. How is that for the integrity of this federal judge - he thinks personal appearances are more important than the Constitution.
Another reason to take a plea is that Bruno’s legacy is already established. The last leader from the Capital District of either Albany chamber was Oswald D. Heck, who served as the Assembly’s speaker from 1937 until his death in 1959. Bruno was a once-in-a-generation politician and all one needs to do is look around – at the airport, the train station, GlobalFoundries, The Joe baseball stadium and countless smaller projects he funded or spearheaded – to see the impact he’s had.
I don’t write history books, but I hope the Bruno prosecution is remembered as fondly as the Salem Witch trials, I hope two or so weeks from Monday he walks out of the courthouse a free man, and I hope the feds learn a lesson.