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Bruno defends his use of state helicopters

State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno on Monday defended his use of state helicopters as proper, while suggesting the reports of his travels are the work of Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, who he said is acting "like an overgrown, rich, spoiled brat."

The Legislature's top Republican, who is already facing an FBI probe for his outside business dealings, declined to release any documents showing that, as he insisted, he was on state business during trips from Albany to Manhattan this year and did not use a state helicopter to attend GOP fundraisers.

"We haven't done anything illegal," Bruno told reporters. "We have not done anything improper."

The Brunswick-based lawmaker's defense came as state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Albany County District Attorney David Soares asked the governor's office for paperwork so they could review Bruno's flights on state aircraft, a Spitzer spokesman said. Soares is the local district attorney who prosecuted former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi for directing state workers to provide services for his wife.

The latest drama to hit Albany this year could have far greater implications than political or potential legal problems for Bruno. Relations between Spitzer and Bruno already are deeply strained, and they come just after lawmakers left town two weeks ago after the two men could not reach settlement on a slew of important issues affecting issues ranging from power plant construction and cleanup of aging industrial sites in places like Buffalo to making school food offerings more nutritional.

The senator and various aides received 11 helicopter flights from the State Police aviation unit this year. In three of those cases, Bruno was in New York City attending fundraisers on those days, according to the Albany Times Union newspaper, which on Sunday reported on the Bruno flights.

Bruno said it is appropriate to use a state aircraft to attend a fundraiser if it is also in conjunction with other state business. He declined to provide any documents showing the purpose of the trips, but spokesman John McArdle said the trips to New York on those days also included legislative business, including meetings with New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and New York Racing Association officials.

Bruno said using state aircraft exclusively to attend fundraisers or other personal business "would be criminal."

"It would be dumb," he added.

In a tit-for-tat move, the state Republican Party on Monday filed Freedom of Information requests with the state to look at Spitzer's own travel records since taking office. The Times Union reported a portion of one trip taken by Spitzer -- of the 19 trips he has taken using state aircraft -- included a political event. That event, on April 10, included a number of business meetings before the governor attended a fundraiser in Rochester for the Monroe County Democratic Party.

Several hours earlier, Bruno, who wields near total control over the state Republican Party, had said that Spitzer was going to find "their hands are dirty." He complained that Spitzer took flights during his campaign last year on a private jet from Richard Fields, a casino developer who is vying with partners to take over New York's lucrative downstate thoroughbred racetrack franchise.

"I told the governor directly: I have dealt with bullies, and rogues and thugs most of my life," Bruno told reporters Monday. "I grew up in the toughest part of Glens Falls next to the boxcars, where kids would come up to you when you weighed 90 pounds and they weighed 120 and just punch you right in the mouth, just because you were Italian, or just because you lived next to the boxcars, or just because they felt like it. That's how I grew up. So, swing away."

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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