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Bruno is target of FBI probe <br> GOP leader admits outside business dealings <br> are under investigation; says he did no wrong

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the outside business dealings of the State Legislature's top Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno on Tuesday confirmed he is the target of a probe, but insisted he has done nothing wrong and was revealing the FBI inquiry to head off "illegal leaks" made by "one of the offices here." He did not elaborate.

Bruno, who lives on sprawling farmland in Rensselaer County, said the FBI first began asking questions about his business interests last spring. "We haven't done anything wrong," he said. Indicating the potential serious nature of the matter, the probe has included the issuance of subpoenas.

"I'm not sure what the inquiries are, but I know that they have inquired," Bruno added during a hastily called news conference. He said he previously had been told he was not a target of the probe.

Bruno has just been re-elected by his fellow Republicans to be the powerful head of the State Senate for another two years.

He bristled when asked if he informed his members of the probe before they voted for him again. "I'm not aware of anything other than an inquiry, so what is there to be aware of," he said.

The FBI probe was news to at least one veteran Republican lawmaker. "We heard some rumors," said Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew, who added that the GOP conference was not told of the inquiry before it re-elected Bruno, 77, to the majority leader post, which he has held since 1994.

But Volker strongly defended Bruno. "Unfortunately, in today's world when you become a leader, you can expect this is going to happen somewhere along the line," he said.

"There's no question he's a straight guy. He would never do anything deliberately wrong. Yes, he's very close to his friends, but that doesn't mean that's wrong," Volker added.

Paul Holstein, a spokesman at the FBI Albany field office, declined comment. The U.S. attorney's office there could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for Gov. George E. Pataki also declined comment.

Bruno's financial disclosure form filed with the Legislative Ethics Committee shows a number of outside interests in which Bruno earns income above his $79,500 state salary and a $41,500 stipend he receives for his Senate job.

Bruno, an avid horse fan, is the sole proprietor of Mountain View Farm, a thoroughbred horse-breeding company. He also is a consultant for Winthrop Corp., a Connecticut firm, and holds a trust in a real estate development company. The only business interest Bruno mentioned Tuesday evening that might be under FBI review was Capital Business Consultants, LLC.

The firm is listed at his home address, according to a filing made with the New York Department of State. Bruno declined to identify the firm's clients or reveal any of his outside income. He said the firm is involved in business strategy and business development. He did not elaborate.

"There have never been conflicts in anything I've done," he said. He said the inquiry is into the past five to six years of his outside dealings.

Bruno talked of his beliefs about keeping to his private-sector roots. "My life has been in business, and I always said I would earn my living outside the Legislature so that I wasn't dependent on this income," he said. Bruno noted most legislators receive an income outside the Legislature.

"It's a part-time business," he said of the Legislature. The state constitution, he noted, declares the Legislature a part-time body. He said his private interests were cleared with the Legislative Ethics Committee.

Bruno, former owner of a telecommunications firm, has helped steer hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development work in the Albany area since becoming majority leader. With Pataki leaving, Bruno will be the top state Republican Jan. 1.

Asked if the inquiry is looking into his role with any state contracts or legislation, Bruno said, "I don't know."

The majority leader summoned reporters to a Capitol office late Tuesday afternoon. "When it was brought to my attention that the inquiry had been leaked to the media, I wanted to be up front and assure that I have nothing to hide and avoid speculation, distortions or unfounded rumors," said Bruno. He said he has hired a lawyer.

Word of the inquiry comes after recent state budget documents, made public after a lawsuit by media interests, showed a company in Bruno's district received $500,000 over the past two years. Evident Technologies got the money at Bruno's request.

Albany-area businessman Jared Abbruzzese has ties to the firm and is being looked at by the state Lobbying Commission for providing Bruno with travel on his private jet. Abbruzzese also was connected with a conglomerate seeking to operate the state's three major thoroughbred tracks; Bruno will help decide that issue next year.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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