Tuesday, November 3, 2009

First witnesses testify at Bruno trial

The first two witnesses testified this morning in the corruption trial of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

James Featherstonhaugh, an attorney with the Albany-based firm Featherstonhaugh, Wiley & Clyne, LLP, was the lead witness. Featherstonhaugh, who introduced Bruno to the investment and brokerage firm McGinnSmith in 1992, admitted to knowledge of a financial relationship between Bruno and McGinnSmith. (Bruno would be elevated to the position of Senate majority leader in 1994.) Featherstonhaugh admitted to introducing Bruno to McGinn at the request of the firm's Chairman of the Board Tim McGinn.

The firm's chairman testified that Bruno was on the payroll. A letter sent to Bruno describing his role at the firm was admitted into evidence. According to the letter, Bruno would spearhead McGinnSmith's efforts at landing investment deals with labor union pension funds. McGinn called Bruno "a significant ally in that effort." A W-2 earnings summary, which was also admitted into evidence, showed that McGinn paid Bruno $24,500 in 1994.

McGinn said Bruno brought in investments by the hospitality workers union and the Teamsters. According to McGinn, Bruno didn't bring in funds from any entity other than labor unions.

James Featherstonhaugh told the jury that Sen. Bruno never asked him to conceal anything about his relationship with McGinnSmith.

UPDATE: 8:02 P.M.
Tim McGinn also said in his testimony that his firm offered Bruno an office, which he used about a dozen times. One interesting moment came when the chairman said his firm and Bruno intended to send our simultaneous press releases announcing the senator's job with McGinn. Bruno wasn't interested in making it public, according to McGinn.

Tim McGinn admitted having two conversations with Bruno about the ethics of working for the investment firm. According to McGinn, Bruno acknowledged the moral implications of his work, but told him it was okay. McGinn said he chose Bruno to work for the firm because he was a respected member of the community. He emphasized Bruno's life story and his success in the Legislature.

McGinn said Bruno requested payments be sent to his consulting company, Capital Business Consultants, Inc., rather than to him personally. He didn't give a reason, according to McGinn.
During questioning form Bruno's attorney Abbe David Lowell, McGinn said "it was well known" that Bruno worked for his firm and he made no effort to conceal it.

The prosecution pointed out that Bruno's compensation from the firm increased to $72,000 in 1995 from $24,500 the year before. Sen. Bruno became majority leader of the state Senate in November 1994.

The third witness of the day was Francis Collins, a New York state Court of Claims judge who served as Sen. Bruno's counsel.

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