Former Nassau Legis. David Denenberg is going to prison for 90 days for bilking a law firm client out of $2.3 million -- a sentence the firm criticized as too lenient.
Denenberg, 52, had faced more than 4 years in prison under a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to eight felony counts of mail fraud.
"While he was a lawmaker, he was a lawbreaker," U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert said during the sentencing Friday in Central Islip.
Looking at Denenberg, she added: "That means during your 15 years as a legislator, you spent eight years stealing."
But Seybert said she weighed the crimes against Denenberg's accomplishments, taking about 125 letters of support into account.
The judge lauded the eight-term Merrick Democrat for his commitment and hard work on behalf of Nassau County residents. Acknowledging the leniency of the sentence, Seybert said she didn't believe Denenberg abused his political office.
Denenberg's former law firm in Garden City, which uncovered the fraud, wasn't satisfied with the punishment.
"I think a 3-month jail time is not significant when you consider the impact of the crime," said Larry Hutcher, comanaging partner of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron.
Hutcher said the ripple effect of the crimes on the firm and its employees were "very dramatic and serious."
Last September, the firm sued Denenberg, who, his lawyer and prosecutors said, has made full restitution to the client, Systemax, a Port Washington computer and electronics retailer.
"We've moved on with our lives, and we will live with whatever the court did," Hutcher said.
Systemax officials could not be reached.
Denenberg billed the company for $2.2 million between November 2006 and last June for "legal services never rendered," according to court papers. Authorities said he billed the same client for another $126,000 "for expenses never incurred."
In January, Denenberg pleaded guilty and resigned his seat, which was filled in a special election in March.
Under terms of a plea agreement with prosecutors, Denenberg faced a sentence of 41 to 51 months, with Seybert having the option of imposing a greater or lesser sentence.
In addition to the prison term, Denenberg was sentenced to 3 months of home confinement to be followed by 3 years of supervised release.
Seybert agreed to let Denenberg report to prison by Sept. 1, so he could take his son back to college.
Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly T. Currie said in a statement that the sentence "should serve as a reminder that in our nation, no one is above the law."
Denenberg spoke briefly to reporters outside the court, apologizing again to family, friends and former constituents, some of whom packed the courtroom.
"My family and I want to move on and get back to the basics, which is raising our children, being part of the community, community service and being with family and friends," he said.
Denenberg's attorney, Jason Russo of Bay Shore, called the sentence "incredibly fair and just and well-reasoned."
"We have immense gratitude that Judge Seybert and the government saw what everybody knows about Dave Denenberg," Russo said. "He has been an incredible public servant."
Denenberg was first elected to the legislature in 2000. Raised in East Meadow, he earned an engineering degree from Cooper Union in Manhattan and a law degree from Brooklyn Law School.
He told Seybert that he's endured public humiliation and soured his prospects for future employment. Time behind bars as an added deterrent wasn't necessary, he said.
"I want to be with my family; my family needs me," he said. "We need to go through this crisis together, to heal together."
"It's 90 days, Mr. Denenberg," the judge said after imposing the sentence. "It's not the end of your life."