Former Bronx state Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was sentenced to 3 years in prison on Wednesday by a federal judge who said he had "betrayed" his constituents by taking $22,000 in bribes from businessmen promoting adult day care centers.
"The crimes of conviction were selling an assemblyman's core functions for money," Manhattan U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska told Stevenson, 47, a two-term Democrat who was caught up in a probe that involved a fellow assemblyman wearing a wire.
Although it was more than Stevenson wanted, Preska's sentence fell well short of the 4r-plus years requested by prosecutors. It followed an emotional plea by Stevenson, who said he went astray trying to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both political leaders in his Morrisania neighborhood.
"That was my only intent -- to be able to serve my people," Stevenson said. "We all have faults. . . .. I need correction, I need to improve myself, my life. But I ask you please to have mercy."
A jury in January found Stevenson guilty of taking bribes from four Ukrainian businessmen to clear the way for their senior centers and proposing a bill that would have blocked competitors. A government informant was a middleman.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who cited Stevenson's case as an example of rampant corruption in Albany when he brought charges last year, lauded the prison term although it was less than his office urged.
"In shameless pursuit of profit, Eric Stevenson took bribes and put his own personal interests before those of his constituents," Bharara said. "Now instead of serving the public, he will be serving time behind prison walls."
The four businessmen got sentences ranging from 9 to 24 months. Before a courtroom packed with Stevenson's supporters, defense lawyer Murray Richman said Stevenson, an African-American, should get no more than his four "rich" and "white" co-defendants.
Preska shot back that federal guidelines -- which called for Stevenson to get 51 to 63 months -- recognize the special damage done by corrupt officials, and noted that Stevenson repeatedly solicited "blessings" from them in return for official help.
The judge never explained why she sentenced him to less time than the government wanted, but as she left, she indicated she was impressed by his family's long record of service.
"You're a very young man," she told Stevenson. "You have a lot of history in your family of public service and you have a lot to give to your community. I'm sure you will do that upon your release."