Nick Spano to be sentenced today for tax evasion

NEWS 12 WESTCHESTER: The judge will decide Monday how long former state Sen. Nick Spano should be behind bars for tax fraud. (June 18, 2012)

Former state Sen. Nicholas Spano of Yonkers will walk into federal court Monday hoping his career in public service allows him to avoid jail time.

But it actually could be what causes U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel to send the Republican to prison for tax evasion after he admitted hiding $45,000 in income, a lawyer and Republican strategist said.

"He'll probably get some time because he was a public official," said Michael Edelman, a Westchester County political consultant. "I don't think he should. There are a lot of people whose tax returns wouldn't stand up to scrutiny by federal prosecutors."

Spano's lawyers will argue that Spano should be sentenced to 12 months -- the low end of the stipulated guideline range. They will ask Seibel to split that between home confinement and community service, allowing Spano to avoid jail altogether.

Federal prosecutors will ask that Spano spend 18 months in a federal prison because he disobeyed the law while having the power to make law.

"Those who are elected to make the law must first obey it themselves," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Perry Carbone and Jason P.W. Halperin wrote in court papers. "They should not misuse their public office for the sake of advancing their own personal financial interest."

Spano has nearly 100 letters of support already before the judge asking for leniency, including some from political enemies.

"If not for the work of our state senator Nick Spano and his efforts in Albany, I doubt we would have been able to rescue our city from bankruptcy," wrote former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer, who publicly traded accusations of corruption with Spano during Spencer's tenure as mayor a decade ago.

Spano supported his brother, Michael Spano, then a Republican, in the 2003 mayoral race to succeed Spencer. Spencer supported eventual winner Phil Amicone in the primary against Michael Spano.

Spencer, a Republican, wrote a letter to the state attorney general's office calling for an investigation of alleged political corruption in Westchester County, much of it centered on Nicholas Spano. Nicholas Spano shrugged off the letter, accusing Spencer of being the corrupt one, and no investigation was launched.

Michael Spano is now the mayor of Yonkers and wrote a letter on behalf of his brother asking for sentencing leniency.

Whatever sentence Nicholas Spano gets, it's unlikely to permanently strip him of the political power he has built up in more than three decades as a state legislator and lobbyist.

"Clients will come back to him because they know the relationships he has," strategist Michael Edelman said in an interview Friday. "They know this isn't some egregious crime he's been convicted of, and they know what good he's been able to do in the past."

Nicholas Spano, 59, who spent 28 years as a member of the state Assembly and Senate, did not return calls seeking comment.

Nicholas Spano's concealed income came from insurance company commissions and rental payments. Prosecutors say he set up a company -- ONAPS, which is Spano spelled backward -- to receive payments from an insurance company while he was an elected official. He filed false financial disclosure forms and moved the money around to other entities, prosecutors said.

Nicholas Spano's guilty plea came on the eve of the trial of former Yonkers City Council member Sandy Annabi and former city GOP boss Zehy Jereis in the biggest public corruption case in Westchester County in more than a decade. A third defendant, politically connected lawyer Anthony Mangone, pleaded guilty and testified against Annabi and Jereis, proving instrumental in their conviction on charges they schemed to sell her council vote on big-dollar development proposals in the city.

Carbone and Halperin also prosecuted Jereis, Annabi and Mangone. That's not a surprise, according to people involved in the Annabi investigation. Federal prosecutors asked Annabi in early 2007 -- when the case was in its infancy -- for information on Nicholas Spano as they threatened her with fraud charges, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

Nicholas Spano, in his own letter to Seibel, said he looks forward to what will happen after his criminal case is done.

"I am looking forward to starting the next phase of my life," he wrote, adding that his "obsession" will be clearing his name because it is the same as his grandfather's. "I brought dishonor to him and my family, and I will spend the rest of my life to make it right."

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