It will be prison, not community service or diplomacy, for former state senator Vincent Leibell, as U.S. District Judge Warren Eginton sentenced the longtime lawmaker to 21 months behind bars for felony corruption charges Friday. Leibell, whose prison sentence is set to begin on July 13, will also face three years probation.
Leibell walked out of the courtroom holding hands with his wife, Helen, shortly after 3 p.m. Later, they exited the U.S. District Courthouse in White Plains together and walked quickly to a waiting car, not stopping to speak to reporters.
Leibell, a Republican who served as state senator in New York’s 40th Senate District from 1995 to 2010, pleaded guilty in December to felony charges of obstruction of justice and tax evasion. The sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of 18 to 24 months behind bars.
David Lewis, Leibell’s defense attorney, argued against prison for his client, saying a sentence of probation and community service would be more appropriate.
“A jail sentence is a failure on a lot of levels,” Lewis told Eginton. Lewis said Leibell’s career of service in the military and in the state legislature should lead Eginton to show leniency.
Prosecutors, though, called for a 24-month prison sentence and countered that the crimes showed a pattern of abuse of his office and were not just a “moment of weakness.”
“Mr. Leibell failed and the system worked because he got caught, and now it’s time for him to pay his debt,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Carbone said.
Eginton had high praise for Lewis, but in the end just split the difference between the high and low ends of the sentencing guidelines.
Leibell had been elected county executive of Putnam a month before his guilty plea, but told officials in late November he would not be taking office.
Leibell’s obstruction of justice charge stems from a June 6 meeting between the then-senator and former Putnam County attorney Carl Lodes in which Leibell asked Lodes to lie to a grand jury regarding kickbacks Lodes had made to Leibell. The conversation was recorded and videotaped and played back to Leibell by prosecutors a week before he was elected county executive.
The tax evasion charges were a result of $43,000 in payments from Lodes and another attorney between 2003 and 2006 that Leibell failed to report.
“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.”
In a letter to Eginton, Leibell suggested he assist in nation-building efforts in the Middle East instead of incarceration, an offer widely mocked and criticized.
“With today’s sentencing, I want to state publicly that, like many, I took Leibell’s recent requests for leniency, actually seeking ‘overseas nation building’ duty in lieu of jail time, as a final indictment on his complete disconnect from reality and justice,” Sen. Greg Ball, Leibell’s successor and frequent critic, said in a statement released minutes after Leibell left the courthouse.
Former county legislator MaryEllen Odell, who lost to Leibell in last year’s county executive race, released a statement saying Leibell’s sentencing marks the end of decades of corruption.
“Today, the judicial system did its job and delivered a serious warning to any politician who thinks about violating the public trust,” Odell stated. “After a cold winter, it’s now a warm spring in Putnam County.”
Leibell also served as an assemblyman from 1983 to 1994.