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Lynch sentenced to 39 months in prison
- Categorized in: Bribes, Payoffs, and Politics, U.S. Attorney District of New Jersey, US Attorney General Convictions
Lynch sentenced to 39 months in prison
A federal judge this morning sentenced former state Senator John Lynch to 39 months in prison for taking kickbacks from a developer, a move that will put one of the most influential political figures in New Jersey in recent years behind bars.
U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler said he hoped that other public officials in New Jersey "will get the message" as he meted out the punishment in federal court in Newark, three months after the longtime Democratic boss from Middlesex County pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion.
Chesler ordered a sentence on the upper end of a plea agreement between federal prosecutors and defense attorneys that suggested between 33 and 41 months. He also ordered Lynch to pay a $50,000 fine.
"For those who are entrusted with such responsibility and power such as you, the fall is greater and there is no getting around that," Chesler told Lynch, calling his disgrace "tragic."
Lynch, 68, will report to prison on Jan. 15. Jack Arseneault, his attorney, requested that Lynch be sent to prison in Fairton in Cumberland County to be close to his family. The judge made the recommendation to the Bureau of Prisons, which has the final say.
U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie praised the sentence. He called Lynch, who helped guide James E. McGreevey into the governor’s office, the most powerful of the more than 100 public officials his office has convicted on public corruption charges during the past five years.
"In New Jersey, there is no one above the law," Christie told reporters after the sentencing. "We are here, we are vigilant and we are not going to relent."
During most of the roughly hour-long hearing, Lynch sat motionless, dressed in a blue suit, light blue shirt and tie. When he stood to address the court, he nervously dipped his right hand in and out of his suit jacket pocket.
"I deeply regret what I’ve done. I made a serious mistake," he said, but added that his "shallow words of apology" could not erase that error.
Arseneault, a longtime friend of Lynch, delivered impassioned remarks urging the judge to be lenient. He asked that the sentence reflect all of the good Lynch had done as the mayor of New Brunswick, a city he helped revitalize, and in the state Senate, where he served as Senate President.
Arseneault acknowledged that Lynch was a "hard-knuckled politician," and that his enemies believe he is "crazy, he’s tough, he fights in your face." But he said Lynch fought for matters of principle, not for the sake of fighting.
"He’s crushed now, because at his core, he’s a good and human being who knows in his soul that he was stupid," Arseneault said.
The defense attorney said the only reason family and friends were not in the courtroom to support Lynch was that Lynch wanted to shield them from the media attention. More than a dozen television, radio and newspaper reporters were on hand for the event.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Chiesa said that for the past quarter century, Lynch’s influence in New Jersey politics was "the gold standard," but that he abused the public trust for personal financial gain.
"This influence was real. This influence came with the accumulated power of 25 years in public service," Chiesa said, urging Chesler to send an "absolutely unmistakable" message that even a powerbroker must "pay the price."
"Everybody is going to watch what this court does today," the prosecutor said.
Chesler said it was his job to weigh Lynch’s public service against his crime.
"Mr. Lynch, you have done wondrous good, but by your conduct here you have done horrendous harm, to you, your family and to the citizens of this state," he said. "To be truthful, your conduct here is totally inexplicable."
Lynch pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion in September, capping a four-year investigation by the FBI and IRS that began with in inquiry into billboard sales by two high-level aides to McGreevey.
Lynch admitted that the Dallenbach Sand Co. made between $120,000 and $200,000 in corrupt payments for his services between 1998 and 2002.
Lynch wrote letters on to the state Department of Environmental Protection on behalf of the company, which was seeking to mine state parkland in South Brunswick. He also acknowledged he failed to pay taxes on $150,000 in income he received in 1999.
Lynch and his attorneys left through a side entrance of the courthouse without speaking to reporters. With time off for good behavior, Lynch could be released from prison in late 2009.
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