Former state Sen. Vincent L. Leibell III—found guilty on two federal counts of felony corruption—will spend 21 months in federal prison, U.S. District Court Judge Warren Eginton ruled Tuesday.
Brushing aside prosecution appeals for more time and a defense bid for none at all, Eginton hewed closely to federal sentencing guidelines in meting out the punishmment, which also included a minimum fine and three years probation, with added special conditions.
Leibell sat stonily silent throughout the hour-long, three-act drama that played out before more than 50 quiet spectators in the Brieant Federal Court building’s ceremonial courtroom in White Plains.
Alternately slipping on his reading glasses, then taking them off, at times resting his face in his hands, Leibell, 64, seemed almost to sink into his navy suit as he sat to the left of defense lawyer David L. Lewis. Also seated as he read his sentencing statement, Lewis urged the judge to ignore a probation department recommendation of 21 months behind bars, contending that probation and public community service was a far more effective way for his client to expiate his sins.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry A. Carbone rejected that approach in his own closing statement.
“Mr. Leibell failed, and the system worked, because he got caught,” the prosecutor said. “Now it’s time to pay his debt.”
Under sentencing guidelines that were negotiated last December, Leibell, 64, faced imprisonment for up to two years after pleading guilty to felony charges of evading taxes and obstructing justice.
Eginton fined him $4,000 and ordered him to serve three years of supervised release after his sentence. He has made restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.
"Today's sentencing of former Senator Vincent Leibell ends a sad chapter in the history of Putnam County," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a press release. "It should serve as a sobering reminder to all public officials throughout New York State that no one is above the law."
The pleas came barely more than a month after the Patterson Republican’s election as Putnam County executive and abruptly ended a political career that included 28 years as a state legislator serving Putnam County and parts of Dutchess and Westchester counties.
It was as a state senator, prosecutors charged, that Leibell demanded kickbacks from two lawyers who represented his nonprofit senior housing organization and who also served as outside counsel to Putnam County.
One of those lawyers has been identified as Carl Lodes, who served as Putnam’s county attorney from 1991 until early 2008. Prosecutors say Leibell pressured both lawyers to kick back a portion of their legal fees, threatening to withhold payments for work performed or in Lodes’ case to cost him his job. Leibell, in court, admitted to receiving $43,000 in payments from the lawyers and failing to report that money as income.
In June 2010, FBI agents seized records held by the Putnam county attorney that related to the hiring of outside counsel. Aware that federal investigators were closing in, Leibell met on a Carmel street with Lodes, who had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury empaneled to probe corruption allegations.
Unaware that the lawyer was recording their conversation, prosecutors would later charge, Leibell ordered Lodes to lie about cash he’d withdrawn from his personal bank account and kicked back to the lawmaker.
Also in June, the FBI subpoenaed documents in Carmel related to legal services provided by the now-defunct Westchester law firm Servino, Santangelo & Randazzo, which was briefly the Carmel town counsel and which took in almost $2 million in legal work from Putnam County between 2000 and 2004.
The second lawyer in the corruption case, who has not been named, was identified only as a partner in a Westchester firm that agreed in 2000 to pay "consulting fees" to Leibell.
The first lawyer, Lodes, and his recording provided direct evidence of corruption, prosecutors said. They quoted Leibell as instructing Lodes to mislead investigators by saying the money he’d withdrawn was meant to provide support for Lodes’ elderly mother and emergency funds in the event of a 9/11-style terrorist attack.
“As long as you and I are consistent, I'm fine, you're fine," Leibell is quoted as saying in the recording. "There was never any cash between you and I, OK?" The recorded conversation, prosecutors said, was the underpinning for their obstruction of justice charge, one of two to which Leibell pleaded guilty last Dec. 6.
Since then, the court was flooded in a flurry of paper, including more than 100 letters of support for Leibell, a defense motion arguing the upside of not confining the disgraced lawmaker and, in a bizarre twist, a request from Leibell to serve, in lieu of prison, in one of the world’s trouble spots, Libya and Iraq among them.
“I have spoken with people in the court system and told them of my great willingness to serve during the current difficulties our nation is experiencing,” Leibell said in a letter to the judge.