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Deal spares councilman prison time

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Gallagher, 43, who is married and has two children, entered a guilty plea to forcible touching and sex abuse, both misdemeanors, before Queens Criminal Court Judge Robert Raciti. As part of the plea deal, the councilman announced that he would resign his City Council post on April 18."[On July 8], while I was intoxicated, I intentionally and forcibly touched parts of the complainant and subjected her to sexual contact without her consent," Gallagher said. "My conduct was wrong and I apologize to the complainant."As part of the deal, Gallagher will also write a letter of resignation, enroll in an alcohol treatment program and not contact the victim.Kenneth Appelbaum, deputy chief of the Special Victims Bureau at the Queens District Attorney's Office, read a statement from the victim, who was not present in the courtroom."I will never recover from the pain, anguish and humiliation I suffered as a result of this man's vicious assault and attack on me," the statement read. "He has scarred me for life and he took away my dignity and self-esteem. He is a sexual abuser. It is disappointing and disgusting when a man who is given the privilege and honor of serving the public as an elected official betrays our trust by behaving reprehensibly and immorally."Gallagher was arrested in August after he was accused of raping the woman in July at his district office on Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, Queens DA Richard Brown said. The councilman, who met the woman at neighborhood bar Danny Boy's, had insisted he had consensual sex with the woman, said Benjamin Brafman, Gallagher's attorney.Gallagher was originally charged with three counts of rape, a criminal sexual act and assault, which could have carried a sentence of up to 26 years in prison, the DA said."He was publicly charged with rape, but this was never a rape case," he said. "He has a drinking problem but is not a rapist or a predator. The humiliation factor in this case went both ways. This is an unfortunate incident that involved a little too much alcohol from both parties."Brafman said he expected the victim to file a civil lawsuit against Gallagher.Queens Supreme Court Justice Sherri Roman dismissed the indictment against the councilman in late January following a request by Brafman, who contended that Gallagher was asked biased questions about his City Council position and marriage during grand jury proceedings. But Roman said that the court found sufficient evidence to support the charges brought against the councilman.But Gallagher accepted a plea deal this week, forcing him to relinquish his City Council seat but keeping him out of prison and not requiring him to register as a sex offender. Brafman said Gallagher would keep his pension because his stepping down had nothing to do with his work on the Council.A special election will be held to replace the councilman within two months of his stepping down, a source familiar with the investigation said. Several candidates are already believed to be considering a run for Gallagher's seat when he resigns, including former Republican councilman and 2005 mayoral candidate Tom Ognibene; Democrat Elizabeth Crowley, cousin of U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights); and Anthony Como, a commissioner with the city's Board of Elections who is backed by state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale).Gallagher's enemies in the neighborhood said they did not think the plea deal was fair. Gallagher and the Juniper Park Civic Association have been involved in a two-year feud after the councilman did not reappoint civic member Tony Nunziato to Community Board 5."People like [former Gov. Eliot] Spitzer and Gallagher get away scot free as long as they resign," Juniper Park Civic President Robert Holden said last week. "What would have been the options for someone with a regular job? Politicians get preferential treatment. But they should be treated more harshly because they violated the public trust."But City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) came to Gallagher's defense."Dennis wanted to spare his family a lengthy and expensive trial, and this plea offer of a misdemeanor with no jail time or even probation clearly shows that he was never guilty of the original crimes with which he was charged," he said. "He is a good person who showed a tremendous lapse in judgment. He and his family have paid dearly for this mistake and my prayers are with them."Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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