The former director of Nassau County's Office of Housing and Community Development, who admitted to ripping off more than $122,000 in housing aid meant for the poor, begged Monday not to be sent to prison, but a federal judge castigated the former official and sentenced him to 18 months.
Before the sentence was issued, Louis Abate, 49, of North Massapequa, who had admitted to taking the money because he was annoyed he did not receive a raise and because he thought he was dying of cancer, said he had learned his lesson.
"I'm very, very sorry," Abate told U.S. District Judge Sandra Feuerstein at U.S. District Court in Central Islip at his sentencing. "I'm very, very sorry. I beg you, don't take me away from my family . . . I am not a bad person . . . I beg forgiveness . . . I thought I was dying . . . I wasn't in my right mind."
But Feuerstein criticized Abate, telling him, "You were given a public trust . . . You stole money from the people who should have had the money."
The judge sentenced Abate to 18 months in federal prison and ordered him to make restitution of the $122,250 he admitted stealing from Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 funds intended to subsidize rent for the poor in Island Park. Feuerstein also ordered Abate, after he was released from prison, to serve three years of supervised release during which he had to perform 20 hours of community service a week.
Before Abate was sentenced, Eastern District federal prosecutor Lara Treinis Gatz said the money Abate stole was enough to provide rent subsidies to three poor families in the Island Park area for two years.
Abate had said in pleading guilty in November to theft of government property that he was motivated because he had not received what he thought was a promised raise from $45,646 to $57,000, in addition to his fear of cancer.
In court papers, arguing that Abate should be sent to prison, the former federal prosecutor in the case, Sean Flynn wrote, "In these trying economic times the defendant's callous actions are completely inexcusable and breached the public trust placed in him."
Flynn also noted that Abate argued that he should not be imprisoned because when he was told he might have cancer in 2007 it "caused him to become mentally unglued and commit the 'aberrant' conduct . . . "
"There was nothing aberrant about the defendant's crime, which lasted for more than two years, and began long after the medical issue was resolved," Flynn wrote.
In his scheme, Abate created a fictitious landlord who rented apartments in Island Park, according to court papers. Between 2009 and 2011, Abate then approved about $5,000-a-month in rental subsidy payments to "the landlord," which actually ended up in a bank account he controlled, according to an investigation by Jennifer Lake, an agent with HUD's inspector general's office.
The $5,000-a-month in payments was "abnormally large" and attracted the attention of both county and federal officials.
The fictitious landlord was named by Abate "J.M. Watson." The maiden name of Abate's wife was Watson, investigators found, court papers say.