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Malcolm Smith sentenced to 7 years in prison for ballot bribery scheme

Former Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith arrives to

Former Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith arrives to federal court in White Plains on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. Credit: AP

Former State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's claims that he tried to bribe his way onto the ballot for the New York City mayoralty to do good and not for personal gain fell flat Wednesday as a federal judge sentenced him to 7 years in prison.

"Just because Mr. Smith wasn't lining his pockets doesn't mean he wasn't engaging in good old-fashioned bribery," U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas said in White Plains. "There is a process that has to be respected. The corruption of the process is really serious."

Smith, 58, who represented a Queens district in the Senate until his defeat last fall after the corruption charges, did not speak at his sentencing. He instead referred Karas to a letter he wrote last week arguing that he did not act out of greed in the plot to pay off county leaders for a spot in the 2013 mayoral primary.

"What excited me, what filled me with hopefulness, and yes, pride, was the opportunity I had to help others," Smith wrote. "I refuse to call that 'greed.' "

"Someone who wants to be a good mayor doesn't get to be a good mayor if he gets there by corrupting the process," said Karas, rejecting Smith's bid for a year-and-a-day prison sentence, but also refusing prosecutors' request for more than 8 years.

Smith, a Democrat, was lured by an informant and an FBI undercover agent posing as corrupt developers into a scheme to pay off county Republican leaders to give him a spot in the GOP mayoral primary. He was convicted of approving $110,000 in bribes, and agreeing to steer state funds to the "developers" in return.

He claimed that he was entrapped by the government and had no criminal intent. His case in recent months has been overshadowed by charges against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, both accused of using their legislative clout for financial benefit without any enticement from government sting operations.

Defense lawyer Gerald Shargel argued that Smith's lifetime of good works as a Queens activist and the government's involvement in the crime should mitigate Smith's sentence.

"What they did was a very, very artful package to lead him down that path," he said, but Karas said Smith was "all too willing to go along."

Leaving court, Smith declined to comment on the 7-year prison term. "I just thank God for the opportunity I've had to serve," he said.

In a separate sentencing Wednesday, Karas imposed a 3 1/2-year prison term on Vincent Tabone, a Queens Republican leader who took a $25,000 cash payoff as part of the scheme.

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