Ex-NY comptroller Hevesi gets 1-4 years in prison

NEW YORK - (AP) - Former New York state comptroller Alan Hevesi,apologizing for his acts of "shame," was sentenced Friday to oneto four years in prison for his leading role in aninfluence-peddling scandal at the state's massive pension fund.

The chapter concluded a twofold downfall that stands out as asymbol of scandal even in a state that's rife with it.

"Although it was never my intention, I know that I causedenormous damage to the integrity of my former office. I havepublicly disgraced myself," Hevesi said, his voice soft butsteady. "I will never forgive myself. I will live with this shamefor the rest of my life."

As he walked out of court in handcuffs, he nodded to the roughlyhalf-dozen relatives who accompanied him, including his sons,Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and former state Sen. Daniel Hevesi, andhis daughter, Laura.

Hevesi, 71, also a former state assemblyman and New York Citycomptroller, was the highest-ranking state official entangled in asweeping probe of "pay-to-play" practices at the $141 billionpension fund. He pleaded guilty in October to a misconduct charge.

"Alan Hevesi presided over a culture of corruption," AttorneyGeneral Andrew Cuomo, now governor, said at the time.

Hevesi "fostered a culture of corruption that permeated thehighest ranks of the comptroller's office," said AssistantAttorney General Ellen Biben, urging prison. "Simply put, insteadof using his power to protect the pension fund, he abused his powerto pad his pockets and the pockets of his friends."

The defense asked state Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus tospare Hevesi time behind bars, pointing to his public service andsaying his public fall from grace was punishment enough.

Obus said he found prison time necessary.

"Even in times of great cynicism about pols and about publicofficials," the public still expects its officeholders to beworthy of their trust, the judge said. "When a person in thatsituation violates that trust, the damage, although hard toquantify, is quite profound. And this is such a violation."

Hevesi admitted that in awarding pension fund investments, he"improperly favored" a venture capitalist who paid for at least$75,000 worth of travel expenses to Israel and Italy for thecomptroller, his family and other officials. Hevesi alsoacknowledged roughly $900,000 in other favors the businessman didfor him or others in his orbit, including a total of $500,000 incampaign contributions to Hevesi and other candidates he or hisstaff suggested.

A former Queens College professor with a doctorate in politicalscience from Columbia University, Hevesi won an Assembly seat in1971. During 22 years in the chamber, he gained a reputation as animpressive debater, wrote more than 100 laws and was known for hiswork on health care.

Hevesi won the New York City comptroller's job on his second tryin 1993, came up short in a 2001 bid for the Democratic nominationfor mayor and took the statewide comptroller's election the nextyear.

As Alan Hevesi ran for re-election in 2006, the state ethicscommission found he had violated the law by using a staffer as adriver for his seriously ill wife for three years and not payingfor it until after his Republican opponent raised the issue.

Still, Hevesi was re-elected by a wide margin, saying his"mistake should not erase 35 years of public service." But aboutsix weeks later, he pleaded guilty to defrauding the government andresigned. He paid a $5,000 fine.

It was the end of his political career but just the beginning ofhis legal problems. Over the next four years, an investigation byCuomo showed that officials and cronies got fees and favors fromfinanciers seeking chunks of the retirement fund to manage. Ascomptroller, Hevesi was the fund's sole trustee.

Eight people have pleaded guilty. More than a dozen other peopleand financial firms have agreed to pay a combined $170 million incivil penalties.

The probe swept up a roster of players in politics and finance,drawing guilty pleas from figures including the former head of NewYork's defunct Liberal Party and civil fines from people includingformer "car czar" Steven Rattner, the financier who helped leadthe Obama administration's bailout and restructuring of Chryslerand General Motors.

The only other person sentenced so far in the pension fundprobe, former Hevesi political adviser Henry "Hank" Morris, isserving 16 months to four years in prison.

Plenty of powerful and promising figures in New York politicshave seen their careers end in scandal.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, resigned in 2008 after he wasnamed as a client of a high-priced prostitution ring; he was nevercharged with any crime. Former Republican state Senate MajorityLeader Joseph Bruno was convicted of a federal charge of using hispublic position to enrich himself; he is appealing.About a dozen other elected and appointed state officials havebeen convicted or accused of crimes in the past two years.

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