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Defense rests, Bruno waives right to testify

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Albany/HV: Defense rests, Bruno waives right to testify
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The jury is expected to get the case today in the Joe Bruno retrial in Albany. Closing arguments are scheduled this morning. Both sides rested their case Wednesday with the final witnesses being called. Our Geoff Redick has the recap of what happened in court.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The retrial of New York's former Senate Majority Leader, kicked off with testimony from Joe Bruno's executive assistant; commonly known as his "gatekeeper." Patricia Stackrow handled all of Bruno's public scheduling, as well as his personal finances. Stackrow testified that she cashed Bruno's $20,000 monthly consulting checks; she was also responsible for filling out Bruno's sometimes questionable Senate Financial Disclosure forms.

"Ms. Stackrow is important to the government to establish records, documents and procedures. But she was important to the defense because again, one of their major themes is distancing the Senator from many of the decisions," explained Legal Expert Paul DerOhannesian.

One decision Bruno can't be distanced from is appointing Wayne Barr to the NYRA board. Barr, a very uncooperative prosecution witness, was a partner in two businesses that paid Bruno the consulting fees. Barr was also appointed by Bruno to the Board of the New York Horse Racing Association, at a time when NYRA and the state were considering turning publicly-run horse racing, private.

One person, who would have loved to operate that private horse racing, was Jared Abbruzzese: a local business giant, and star trial witness. Often arguing with prosecutors and even the judge, Abbruzzese still could not argue the fact that he paid Joe Bruno $20,000 a month.

But his problem was proving what Bruno did for the money. Abbruzzese told prosecutors that Bruno helped him lobby in Washington, though officials in his various companies claimed they never saw the Senator there.

And Abbruzzese said Bruno introduced him to many important people, though he could only remember one and he didn't really know when.

"But he definitely, unlike many witnesses who get immunity, doesn't say 'I did something wrong, I bribed this public official.' And that's the problem they have with Mr. Abbruzzese," said DerOhannesian.

Prosecutors accused Abbruzzese of bribing Bruno to direct state grant money to Abbruzzese's companies, one of which was Evident Technologies, run by Clint Ballinger. Ballinger testified that Abbruzzese was always trying to raise state money for Evident, which explains the $1.5 million grant Evident got in 2001. But it doesn't explain why that money suddenly stopped flowing or why it started again, just 5 days after Bruno and Abbruzzese took a golf trip together, just five days before Abbruzzese agreed to pay Bruno, $20,000 a month.

"And I would expect to hear that in summation, that they say, 'Look, he is hiding. He is concealing,'" said DerOhannesian.

The defense's case, comparatively shorter: not even a full trial day, their witnesses vouching for the character of Joe Bruno. One fellow consultant said it's not unusual that Joe Bruno didn't keep a written record of the work he did for his consulting fees.

"They say, 'Look, you don't have to do that. Sometimes lobbyists don't make a record of what they're doing," said Paul DerOhannesian.

So making $20,000 a month, on consulting work for which there is no record, paid by a man with business before the state.

Will the jury bridge the gap to find that Bruno took bribes? Time Warner Cable News will find out soon enough: closing arguments begin Thursday.

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