Friends of Joe Bruno Not Much Help

For a guy who was supposed to have been the most widely admired man in the Capitol Region, Joe Bruno so far hasn't gotten a lot of help from his friends.

Yesterday's unhelpful testimony at the former state senate leader's fraud trial in federal court in Albany came from one of his former top aides. Veteran top Republican senate finance aide David Natoli spelled out exactly how his old boss divvied up the loot when it came to member item allocations, i.e. taxpayer-funded pork doled out by senators to favored groups and causes.

Natoli provided one of those rare honest descriptions of how things really work in the legislature, according to Albany Times-Union ace James Odato. "Senator Bruno decided the allocation," he testified. Average shares for Republican members during those GOP-majority years, the finance big stated, were $2 million a head, with "adjustments for seniority," and a bump for "politically marginal members" who needed to shore up support by spreading the bread around the district.

Any dough left over -$4 million to $7 million a year -- was tossed into Bruno's own pot. (This helps explain how the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium -- a.k.a. "The Joe" -- came to be in next-door Troy, along with the bust of Senator Joe that adorns the observation deck at the Albany airport).

Not that some Bruno allies didn't make a stab at helping their old patron. Former senate finance secretary Mary Louise Mallick was asked by Bruno's lawyers on the stand if it wasn't true that the senate had become much more open after Bruno took over as leader in 1995. Mallick agreed, citing a Web site that went up on Bruno's watch, listing a breakdown of each legislator's pork allocations, something previously kept secret. What she didn't say was that the new disclosure only came after Bruno was dragged, kicking and screaming, into court by the Times-Union which sued to win access to the information. A judge's order in October, 2006 compelled the senate to fork over the long zealously guarded secrets.

Today is another high anxiety affair for the Friends of Joe as the ex-leader's horse-breeding business partner, Jared Abbruzzese - a.k.a. "Jerry A." -- prepares to take the witness stand. Prosecutors will be asking just how it happened that Jerry A. came to pay his pal $360,000 in consulting fees at the same time that one of Abbruzzese's companies, Evident Technologies of Troy, was landing a cool half-million in state grants, steered out of that same precious pot of gold pork controlled by the senate leader.

The Bruno affair finally made it above the fold (it's a newspaper reference) today in the Times, which has a devastating breakdown of the trial's inside peek at Albany's business-as-usual by Nicholas Confessore.

For those for whom even this is not enough, the Times-Union has added a live Web-cam of the Albany court house to its already blanket coverage of the trial (tweets, exhibits, transcripts, Jury lunch orders, are also available).

The T-U engaged in a lot of hand-to-hand combat with the silver-haired horse rider during Bruno's reign, and it became one of Bruno's favorite whipping boys as a result. Its vast trial coverage is therefore to be greatly admired by those of us in the news business who live by the rule that turnabout is always fair play.


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