Former Staten Island congressman Michael Grimm was sentenced to 8 months in prison in federal court in Brooklyn on Friday for filing a false tax return for his restaurant after he told the judge he committed the crime because his Marine Corps training wouldn't let him see the business falter.
"A Marine is taught you don't fail. I didn't want to fail," said Grimm, also a former FBI agent, who pleaded guilty in December to cheating on the taxes for Healthalicious, a health food restaurant he ran in Manhattan before his election to the House.
"The harsh reality is if you open a restaurant in Manhattan where you have delivery boys, you're going to have people off the books or you're going to close," he explained. "I should have had the courage to close."
But U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen didn't buy the plea for leniency, questioning the sincerity of Grimm's claimed remorse and criticizing him for failing to apologize for underpaying immigrant workers at the restaurant.
"Your moral compass needs some reorientation," she told Grimm, who was ordered to surrender to serve his sentence on Sept. 10.
Grimm, a Republican, allegedly paid restaurant workers -- some illegally in the country -- off the books, and understated the restaurant's receipts. He had argued that the prosecution, which began as a campaign finance probe, was a political vendetta, but he resigned from Congress after the plea.
Prosecutors asked for a sentence of 18 to 24 months in prison. Grimm and his lawyers contended that no jail time was justified because underpayment of restaurant taxes is typically pursued civilly. No criminal tax case against a restaurant has previously been brought in federal court in Brooklyn, they said, and the vast majority of criminal tax cases end in probation.
"It's a tough pill for me to swallow, that I'm the only restaurant owner ever to be charged with this," Grimm said. " . . . Just treat me like every other restaurant owner."
Chen conceded that crimes "of this type are not severely punished in this district," but said Grimm's case was different because he was a lawyer, ex-FBI agent and congressman who should have known better, and he lied under oath in a civil suit brought by workers.
Grimm had said that he "lost sleep" over those lies, but the judge wasn't impressed. "What he did not do is correct the lies," Chen said.
Grimm admitted to concealing more than $900,000 in restaurant income, costing the government between $80,000 and $200,000 in tax revenue. The criminal conduct all occurred before he began serving in Congress in 2010. He resigned his House seat in January.