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Despite Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin’s best efforts to atone for his crimes, a federal judge ruled last week that no amount of cooperation or pleas for mercy could outweigh the “brazen and perversely creative” fraud he committed against the people he had promised to serve.
A Manhattan federal court judge sentenced disgraced former Queens legislator Brian McLaughlin to 10 years in prison May 20, completing a fall from grace for the former legislature that kick−started the largest corruption probe in borough history.
“Your conduct harkens back to another era,” Judge Richard Sullivan said. “It’s shameful, sure, but it just so betrays the institutions you sought to uphold.”
McLaughlin, 57, who pleaded guilty last year to embezzling millions of dollars from labor groups, his own re−election committee and the Electchester Little League, told the judge before the sentence was handed down that he made no excuses for his actions.
“But I’d like to add that over the last three years, I have had an opportunity to live my life the way I want, and I ask for the mercy of your honor and the mercy of this court,” he said.
But mercy was something McLaughlin ultimately received very little of from Sullivan. This despite a superseding plea agreement signed by the U.S. attorney’s office recommending a lighter sentence, nearly four dozen letters from friends and family attesting to McLaughlin’s resurrection as an honest man and arguments from his attorney who said his crimes were overstated.
Sullivan said he considered all of this, but concluded that McLaughlin’s “brazen and perversely creative” betrayal of the public trust was just too severe to merit much leniency.
“The reality is your conduct has created a cynicism, a despair that completely undermines the institutions you were supposed to uphold,” he said.
McLaughlin appeared visibly surprised by Sullivan’s ruling. Afterward, standing outside the courtroom biting his lower lip, he declined to comment.
McLaughlin’s sentence closed a major chapter in the largest corruption probe in Queens history — one that saw the disintegration of one of the most powerful and influential labor leaders and politicians in the city.
In 2006, McLaughlin was arrested after federal authorities indicted him on 44 counts of racketeering, which included embezzlement, receiving bribes, fraud and money laundering. Last March, days before jury selection was to begin in his trial, McLaughlin pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and one count of making false statements.
McLaughlin’s three children — Robert, Casey and Kelly — were also present in the courtroom. Robert put his head in his hands after the sentencing was read.
The plea agreement detailing McLaughlin’s cooperation with the U.S. attorney’s office remained sealed Tuesday, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Braun said McLaughlin had provided the government “a substantial amount of information.”
Sullivan said he considered the plea agreement, which suggested a “downward departure” from federal guidelines recommending of eight to 10 years in prison, along with more than 40 letters asking for leniency, but noted “the enormity of this conduct just can’t be overlooked.”
McLaughlin, a Democrat who represented Electchester, Flushing and Whitestone, was ordered to surrender July 21. He was also fined $25,000 and will be required to pay restitution to his victims, though the details of the payments have yet to be finalized.
Sullivan’s sentence followed a lengthy debate in the courtroom over the nature of McLaughlin’s crimes.
McLaughlin’s attorney, Michael Armstrong, said his client should be judged on the amount of money he stole, some $2.2 million, rather than the number of people he stole from.
“There are no real victims in this case,” Armstrong said, prompting a quick response from Sullivan.
“No real victims?”
“The amount of money taken from the victims doesn’t amount to a point where he or she had even realized that they lost,” Armstrong continued.
But Sullivan said what set McLaughlin’s case apart from others was the fact that he abused multiple positions of public trust and authority. He said if it had not been for McLaughlin’s cooperation with the U.S. government, he would have recommended a sentence of 15 years in prison.
Sullivan said he took no pleasure in issuing the sentence, but maintained it was necessary to effectuate justice. Should he choose to, McLaughlin has 10 days to file an appeal.
“This is a failure, for everyone I think,” Sullivan said, turning to McLaughlin’s family. “I hope you will rally around your father, and I hope you, Mr. McLaughlin, will rally around them. This will be a difficult time, but families can come together in spite of that.”
McLaughlin’s sentencing had been delayed numerous times over the last year after sources told TimesLedger Newspapers he began cooperating with federal authorities on investigations that led to the indictments of state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D−Richmond Hill) and Santo Petrocelli, the head of Long Island City−based Petrocelli Electric Co.
Jeremy Walsh contributed to this story.
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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