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Gun-license lawyer gets 12 months in jail for bribing NYPD sergeant

John Chambers, 64, was accused of fixing pistol permits through his bribes to Sgt. David Villanueva of Valley Stream.

Former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney John Chambers leaves

Former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney John Chambers leaves a federal courthouse in Manhattan in April 2017.   Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced the gun-license lawyer accused of fixing pistol permits at the NYPD and in Nassau County to 12 months and a day in prison — significantly less than prosecutors had requested.

John Chambers, 64, of Manhattan, a former Brooklyn prosecutor who had a law practice specializing in gun-license issues, was convicted in April of bribing NYPD Sgt. David Villanueva for nine years with items including watches, clothes and cash to help his clients obtain permits.

Villanueva, 44, of Valley Stream, pleaded guilty and testified against Chambers, who was convicted by jury of conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. 

U.S. District Judge William Pauley, in imposing the sentence against Chambers, which included three years probation, said he thought the federal guidelines of 41 to 51 months  — which prosecutors requested — was “significantly more than necessary.”

Chambers' defense attorney Roger Stavis of Manhattan raised Chambers' status as a transgender man as a reason for the judge to spare his client any prison time. Stavis cited new Department of Justice guidelines that would prevent Chambers, who was born a woman and had gender reassignment surgery, from receiving hormone treatment during his incarceration and dictate he serve his time in a female prison.

"Does he need to be destroyed?" Stavis asked in remarks before the judge handing down the sentence. "Nothing that he did warrants a hellish punishment like that, your honor." 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller, who prosecuted the case with Paul M. Monteleoni, told the judge he didn't dispute the "unusual and mitigating circumstances" but said Chambers' conduct resulted in the "corruption of vital government processes." 

Pauley, noting that he presided over the trial and found the jury verdict "fully supported by the evidence in the case," said while Chambers had struggled with his gender identity and other issues, he had managed to overcome and triumphed professionally as a successful attorney. 

"This is an ignominious end to a legal career that started with so much promise," Pauley said. 

But the judge, who called the sentencing "a painful moment," said Chambers' actions was "not a momentary lapse" in judgment but rather a plan to "grease the wheels for his clients."

"Given the resolve you've shown with other things in your life, I'm confident you will climb this wall as well," Pauley told Chambers, who declined to read a letter aloud he had written to the judge.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on the sentence. 

Pauley said he was willing to recommend to the federal Bureau of Prisons that Chambers serve his time at prison camps for men with medical facilities that are "capable of administering various hormone treatments," but Chambers' defense attorneys said they would discuss the issue with prosecutors.

During the weeklong trial, Villanueva testified that Chambers was one of four license “expediters” who bribed him and described his relationship with Chambers as a “transactional friendship.”

Villanueva received free dinners and lunches, tickets to sporting and entertainment events, sports memorabilia, an $8,500 watch and more than $2,000 in cash from Chambers as part of the scheme, prosecutors said. 

Chambers' defense attorneys asserted that the gifts were the result of a real friendship, not bribes. Chambers’ wife, Christina, testified that as a transgender man, Chambers valued Villanueva as one of his few male friends and took the cop and his wife out on birthday and sports outings.

Stavis and Chambers' other attorney, Steve Brounstein of Brooklyn, said they were pleased with the sentence.

“The judge really recognized the humanity of our client and we’re gratified,” Stavis said.

Chambers, who must surrender to authorities to begin serving his sentence on Feb. 27, declined to comment as he left the courthouse with his wife.

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