Bruno's Labor Ties Probed

Albany area unions get federal subpoenas for information about investments made through the Senate majority leader's former employer

 

By JAMES M. ODATO

February 3, 2008

Capitol bureau

 

ALBANY - Federal agents have demanded business records from several Albany-area labor unions that have sent tens of millions of dollars to investment firms that employed state Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno over the past decade, according to labor representatives and other sources.

 

FBI agents served subpoenas last week on the unions' pension and welfare fund leaders. The unions include Laborers Local 190 and Teamsters Local 294, among others.

 

The FBI told the labor organizations to produce records involving Wright Investors Service of Milford, Conn., and its holding company, Winthrop Corp., Bruno's longtime employers before his abrupt resignation in December.

 

The subpoenas, signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe of the Albany office, also call for any union records involving Bruno and his Brunswick consulting company, Capital Business Consultants. Coombe said Saturday she had no comment.

 

James E. Long, a lawyer for Local 190, said the labor group received a subpoena on Wednesday. He said his client has not yet produced the records but will cooperate. The demand for the documents requires they be turned over by Feb. 14.

 

Teamsters Local 294 lawyer Bruce Bramley, who also represents several other area labor groups, said he could not confirm or deny "anything."

 

The FBI has been looking into some of Bruno's outside business interests for about two years. Bruno, the top Republican in the state and majority leader since 1995, served as a business development agent for Wright, or Winthrop Corp., since about the time he took over his leadership post in the Senate.

 

Both the firm and Bruno said in December it was better to break ties because people have been focusing on his employment with Wright. That, Bruno said at the time, "has taken attention away from more pressing issues such as our efforts to address the critical needs of our state going forward." He has maintained that he has done nothing illegal or improper.

 

Federal investigators have been taking information from Bruno's business associates for a federal grand jury, according to subpoenas and interviews. The probe, which stretched to Bruno's friends, acquaintances and horse-breeding business, seemed to have stalled in recent months as Bruno's wife, Barbara, struggled with a chronic illness. She died Jan. 7.

 

The emergence of the union subpoenas last week is the first sign this year that the FBI has not discontinued its interest in Bruno's financial affairs.

 

Bruno spokesman John McArdle on Saturday would not say if Bruno had been served a subpoena or a request for information regarding his work with Wright, Winthrop or Capital Business Consulting. Nor would he say if Bruno had been paid a salary, or a commission, for steering business to the investment management house over the years.

 

"Sen. Bruno has cooperated fully and completely with the inquiry and ended his employment with Wright Investment last year," McArdle said. When asked by reporters, the senator has been unwilling to disclose details of his work for Wright and has refused to reveal his consulting clients.

 

Wright, through a spokesman, said Saturday the firm would not say if it had received subpoenas. It stated: "Bruno has assured us ... that relevant authorities concluded that his business relationship with us posed no substantive conflict-of-interest issues." Wright handles pension investments for several labor unions, many based in the Albany area.

 

The amount of money invested through Wright has been substantial over the years, although some of the unions, such as those representing bricklayers, have diversified and reduced Wright's involvement.

 

For instance, an article in Pensions & Investments magazine in 2003 said Local 190 retained Wright to manage $36 million from its $80 million pension plan after using Independent Fiduciary Services (IFS) as an adviser. Long said the union's pension fund was dissatisfied with the returns and doesn't use Wright anymore. A smaller welfare fund sends some of its $5.5 million portfolio to Wright managers, he said.

 

Albert Catalano, the leader of the Bricklayers and Allied

Craftworkers Local 2 from 1998 to 2005 and now regional director for the international unit of the union, said Wright managed about $20 million of the group's pension fund beginning in the early 1990s. "I was never made aware during my relationship with Wright that they had Joe Bruno," he said. He said that before he left office, the union began decreasing the sums it sent Wright to manage.

 

James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or by e-mail at jodato@timesunion.com.


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