Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ex-Assemblyman McLaughlin Gets 10 Years for Racketeering by Benjamin Weiser -

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Rejecting requests for leniency from the defense and the prosecution, a federal judge in Manhattan sentenced the former president of the nation’s largest municipal labor council to 10 years in prison on Wednesday, saying his abuse of the trust placed in him “staggers the mind.”

Photo caption: Brian M. McLaughlin, 57, on his way to his sentencing for racketeering. He was accused of taking money from taxpayers, labor unions and contractors. John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times

“You had every opportunity,” said the judge, Richard J. Sullivan of Federal District Court, “and you used those opportunities and squandered them for your own benefit on a monumental scale.”

The defendant, Brian M. McLaughlin, 57, who had also been an assemblyman from Queens, pleaded guilty in March 2008 to racketeering charges that included using embezzlement, fraud and bribes to take money from taxpayers, labor unions and contractors, even from a Little League team in Queens.

A document made public on Wednesday shows that Mr. McLaughlin has agreed to forfeit more than $3 million in illegal proceeds from his crimes.

Prosecutors had asked for a lenient sentence, saying Mr. McLaughlin had helped the government in investigating others. But Judge Sullivan said Mr. McLaughlin’s betrayal of public trust outweighed any assistance he had given. He also fined the defendant $25,000.

Mr. McLaughlin’s assistance, for instance, helped lead to the arrest of Anthony S. Seminerio, another Queens assemblyman, a person involved in the case has said. Mr. Seminerio was charged last year with a fraud scheme; he has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors charged that Mr. McLaughlin had misappropriated more than $330,000 from his own re-election committee; $185,000 from the New York City Central Labor Council, which he led; and more than $35,000 from the State Assembly. They said he had created fictitious jobs within the labor council and on his own legislative staff, and took kickbacks from the jobholders.

In court on Wednesday, a federal prosecutor, Daniel A. Braun, formally asked for leniency for Mr. McLaughlin, saying he had provided “substantial assistance” to the government, though he did not offer details in open court.

Mr. McLaughlin’s lawyer, Michael F. Armstrong, told the judge, “This is someone who at core is a good person who went terribly wrong, and who realizes that, and realizes it fully.”

Mr. McLaughlin, addressing the judge, apologized for his “improper conduct and criminal activity.”

“I make no excuses for it,” he said, “but I’d like to add that over the last three, three and a half years, I’ve had the opportunity to live the way I’d like to live my life,” an apparent reference to steps he has taken toward rehabilitation like attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, as well as cooperating with the government.

Mr. McLaughlin, who was ordered to surrender on July 21, remained free on bond. He had no comment after the sentencing.

Mr. McLaughlin was a seven-term assemblyman when he was charged in 2006; he had long served simultaneously as the head of the labor council, a federation of 400 union locals with more than one million members. His dual role as legislator and union chief was unusual, and lucrative — he earned $263,600 in combined salaries and expenses annually.

Once an electrician, Mr. McLaughlin took over the labor council in 1995. He was not a particularly high-profile legislator; most of his influence was exerted as a union chief.

Judge Sullivan said he had received dozens of letters in support of Mr. McLaughlin, including one from John Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., who urged leniency, citing Mr. McLaughlin’s “long record of service to the working men and women of New York City.”

But Judge Sullivan said he found it hard to reconcile the portrait offered by Mr. McLaughlin’s supporters with the picture that emerged from the case of “a man who so abused the trust of institutions and people who depended on him that it sort of staggers the mind.”

“The sheer number of instances of this sort,” the judge said, “the brazen and perversely creative ways in which you abused that trust, paints a picture of an extremely different man.”

He said Mr. McLaughlin’s conduct confirmed “the harshest critics of organized labor who accuse the leadership of corruption, and point to you as an example of that corruption.”

The Central Labor Council said it had “moved forward as a stronger, more accountable labor organization,” and had “made the necessary reforms to protect our integrity and increase transparency and reporting measures.”

In an agreement with the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, both sides originally agreed that a reasonable sentence would be 8 to 10 years, without accounting for cooperation.

The judge said an appropriate sentence would be 15 years, but he then reduced that to 10 years because of Mr. McLaughlin’s cooperation.

“I derive no joy in imposing a sentence of this kind,” Judge Sullivan said. “This is a day of failure for everyone.”

Danny Hakim contributed reporting.