Friday, June 05, 2009
Palm Beach County Commissioner taken away in handcuffs ... by gimleteye
Once a powerful county commissioner who specialized in pushing through zoning changes and development permits, Mary McCarty was not lead away in handcuffs yesterday. But she is going to be doing plenty of time to think about her crime. Tony Doris, formerly of Miami Daily Business Review, reports from Palm Beach. Doris was a distinguished journalist who reported out the Idiocy of the Homestead Air Force Base fiasco whose true costs have never been reported to Miami-Dade taxpayers. I've joked that a quorum of the recent Palm Beach County Commission could be conducted from federal prison. Today, it is true. (A nod, here, to the commenter who notes that McCarty joins the "rouge gallery" of former public officials trying to make-up to their reputations from a prison cell.)
Tearful McCarty gets 3.5 years, begins sentence immediately; may get drug treatment in Texas
By TONY DORIS
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 04, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH — Having gone from power broker to supplicant, former Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty rose before U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks and, sobbing, begged forgiveness.
"I apologize to this court and to the victims of my conduct," she said. "My carelessness and irresponsible behavior have humbled me."
McCarty's jail mug
The judge's words
Excerpts from the sentencing order by U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks:
Ms. McCarty's crime is less blatant and more subtle than that of others who have been before the Court. While sophistication is not necessarily a virtue, her crime has been less premeditated than the out and out thievery practiced by some. She participated in a system not entirely of her own making, which has proven to be a recipe for corruption.
There is not a need to protect the public from future crimes by this defendant. Ms. McCarty is unlikely to regain political power, and if she did, unlikely to repeat this crime.
A sentence must be a strong statement that this behavior is intolerable, and should not be repeated. ... But it should not be greater than necessary to accomplish these purposes.
McCarty today at court
PB County commissioner is the fifth local political leader in the past three years to head to prison for abusing public office.
McCarty added: "I never thought of myself as a criminal, but I am one."
Not enough, the judge said Thursday, ruling that her actions required that a message be sent to deter others. His message: 31/2 years behind bars, plus a $100,000 fine payable immediately.
Then he had marshals take her into custody on the spot.
The judge stomped on defense intimations that her deeds amounted to ethics trifles beyond the purview of federal court. "Ms. McCarty," he said, "has committed a serious federal crime."
She took off her pearl necklace, bunched it into the hands of her teary mother and disappeared into federal custody.
Her mother, Jeanne Ray, called it a "tragedy." McCarty's brother, lobbyist Brian Ballard, and sister, Julie Ballard-Lebe, also were in the courtroom.
The fallen ex-commissioner became the third in three years to be imprisoned on federal corruption charges, following Tony Masilotti and Warren Newell. More may be on the way: Prosecutors said Newell, in earning a sentence reduction last week, had divulged information not just on McCarty but on others yet to be publicly identified.
"Our work in this area is not yet done," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Sloman said.
McCarty, 54, served 18 years on the commission and was a Delray Beach commissioner before that. She pleaded guilty in March to taking free resort stays from a company she helped win a contract to build a convention center hotel, and to steering bond awards that profited herself and her underwriter husband, Kevin.
Kevin McCarty began an eight-month term last month for failing to report her crime.
Mary McCarty's sentencing began precisely at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, despite an underground cable failure at 9:02 that shut off courthouse power for nearly an hour.
Outside the courthouse, McCarty's impending fate mixed supporters' anguish and antagonists' outrage with levity about the power outage.
"Does that mean they won't be able to use the electric chair?" a government worker quipped.
"I just don't feel she should be going to prison at all," said Wanda Robinson of Jupiter, a 20-year friend. "It's an ethics problem and definitely not a federal case. It's shocking and it's scary."
But others said McCarty deserved the max, that she had bullied residents to favor developers for 20 years. "It's them versus the people. That's how I see Mary McCarty - she's a 'them,' " said John Earley, a conservative activist who had clashed with her on internal GOP politics.
He and friend John Parsons came to the courthouse to hand out yellow lapel tags with the numeral "5," to urge the five-year maximum spelled out in her plea bargain.
McCarty's attorney, David Bogenschutz, urged the judge to sentence her to no more than a year and a day. Even so, the 31/2-year sentence Middlebrooks meted out represented "a substantial break," Bogenschutz said afterward.
It was 18 months less than the maximum, and 18 months less than what Masilotti and Newell received in their corruption cases. Newell's penalty was cut to three years last week for providing evidence against McCarty.
"Eighteen months means a lot more when you're 54 than when you're 24," Bogenschutz said. The sentence reflected the judge's recognition of McCarty's history of public service, he added.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Carlton said the sentence recognized the importance of deterring corruption. "It will garner the attention of any public official," he said.
McCarty's $100,000 fine is in addition to the $272,000 in ill-gotten gains she and her husband have forfeited. The fine was far higher than the $25,000 levied against Masilotti. Newell forfeited $135,000 but received no fine.
McCarty also got harsher treatment than her peers when Middlebrooks sent her to jail immediately. Masilotti and Newell each had at least a month before reporting to prison.
McCarty's preparations for Thursday including extensive talks about prison life, Bogenschutz said.
"She's prepared for what she can expect, more than any defendant I've ever seen," he said.
He asked that McCarty serve her sentence in Texas, which has a minimum-security federal prison that offers substance-abuse treatment. Bogenschutz would not elaborate on what treatment McCarty may require. The judge made no guarantees.
The judge weighed McCarty's service to the community, said she was unlikely to repeat her crimes and opined that her actions were "less premeditated than the out-and-out thievery" of other officials.
He placed her crimes in the context of a county awash in corruption, citing state grand jury reports - one released May 27 - urging sterner treatment of dishonest officials.
"She participated in a system not entirely of her own making, which has proven to be a recipe for corruption," the judge said. He added: "The pay-to-play culture created a sense of entitlement to gifts and benefits."
But that doesn't minimize what she did, he concluded. And he strongly disagreed with defense arguments that the federal corruption law she violated, prohibiting "honest services fraud," is on shaky legal grounds.
"The honest services law has been on the books for 20 years," he wrote. "It was enacted in recognition of the reality that more sophisticated forms of political corruption rarely involve the delivery of a bag of cash in exchange for an identified vote."