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Judge gives McLaughlin 10 years in prison

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A Manhattan federal court judge sentence disgraced former Queens legislator Brian McLaughlin to 10 years in prison Wednesday, tossing aside a superseding plea agreement signed with the U.S. attorney’s office and calling the one-time state assemblyman “brazen and perversely creative.”

“Your conduct hearkens 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.

He 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 Wednesday, 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 sentenced 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.

“You have confirmed the worst criticisms of the harshest critics of organized labor,” he said. “The reality is your conduct has created a cynicism, a despair that completely undermines the institutions you were supposed to uphold.”

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.”Earlier this month McLaughlin’s attorney submitted a 160-page memorandum containing nearly four dozen letters from friends, family members and community leaders pleading for leniency from Sullivan.

Just over a year after he had pleaded guilty, the 47 letters submitted to the judge on McLaughlin’s behalf painted the former Flushing politician and labor chief as an alcoholic and an adulterer who had rebuilt his life after thumbing his nose at the law.

“Mr. McLaughlin is at heart and core a good man who lost his way but has found it again,” Armstrong, his attorney, wrote in a letter to Sullivan.

In the letters the former head of the Central Labor Council’s wife Eva, children, Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor and Queens community leaders called on Sullivan to issue probation in lieu of jail time.

“His fall from grace has been a heavy fall — two powerful and good paying jobs, influence and leadership in his union and community replaced by shame and guilt,” wrote his son, Brian McLaughlin. “Nonetheless, he has worked hard to improve his life and as a result has united our family.”

According to the memorandum, filed May 5 in Manhattan federal court, McLaughlin joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 2005 to treat a longstanding alcohol dependency and has rebuilt relationships with his children after repeated infidelities led him to be estranged from his second wife, Eva.

“While we all regret the situation that my father has put himself and our family in, we also learned the power of forgiveness,” his daughter, Kelly, said in her letter. “I have watched my father transform these past few years.”

The court filing also includes a letter from Dennis Mannix, McLaughlin’s sponsor at Alcoholics Anonymous. Mannix, who met McLaughlin in 2005, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in 1980, but sentenced to five years probation and alcohol counseling by Judge Peter McQuillan.

“He came to us in A.A. before he was arrested, he was on his way with God’s grace to sobriety. He has been a powerful example of God’s power to me and countless others,” Mannix wrote. “He will do no one any good in jail. I ask what was asked of [Judge] Peter McQuillan on my behalf to show Brian leniency with no jail time.”

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 Company.

Jeremy Walsh contributed to this story.

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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