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Shirley Huntley sentenced to 1 year, 1 day in prison

New York State Senator Shirley Huntley, part of

New York State Senator Shirley Huntley, part of the New York State Ethics committee, surrenders at the Nassau District Attorney's office in Mineola. (Aug. 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Former Queens state Sen. Shirley Huntley, who secretly taped six colleagues for the FBI last summer in a bid for leniency, was sentenced to a year and a day in jail in Brooklyn federal court Thursday on charges that she embezzled money from a nonprofit.

Brushing aside a defense claim that Huntley, 74, provided valuable help and that jail time would discourage other Albany insiders from cooperating, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein said, "The law and the public expect the highest standard of integrity from public officials."

The ex-senator, a longtime education activist in Queens, sat beside her aging husband, Herbert, 75, at the sentencing and asked the judge to give her "another chance so I can spend my remaining years trying to redeem myself." But she was composed after Weinstein ordered jail.

Huntley pleaded guilty in January to stealing $87,700 from Parents Information Network, a nonprofit she founded. The names of six senators and three others she taped last year were revealed Wednesday. Prosecutors said eight are under investigation, but they did not give Huntley immunity because she lied about some matters.

Defense lawyer Sally Butler argued that although Huntley was acting in her self interest and not all of her assistance panned out, she should be rewarded for trying. She called it "gutsy" and said the family had received threats since her cooperation was disclosed.

"People like Shirley Huntley have to come forward," she said. "Sending her to jail will discourage it." Butler also added new fuel to the furor surrounding Albany's ethics. She alleged that Huntley got one fellow senator to admit a bribe on tape, told the FBI about "bags of cash" outside the Capitol elevators and revealed "corruption involving [Attorney General] Eric Schneiderman . . . and about a particular person she believed to be a mole" in the AG's office.

Schneiderman's office, after the hearing, said it traced the allegation to resentment over a state case he filed in 2011 involving a different Huntley-linked charity. Huntley later pleaded guilty to falsifying records in that case.

"It's no surprise that the criminal is angry at the prosecutor, but Huntley's lies should not distract from the fact that today justice was served," a Schneiderman spokesman said.

In court, prosecutor Paul Tuchmann cautioned Weinstein that despite Huntley's "substantial efforts" to provide information on corruption, the results were uneven. "Some statements were credible, some were not credible," he said. "Some of the allegations we were able to corroborate, some we were not."

In response to the statements, the U.S. attorney's office provided little clarity about Schneiderman. "In court, and in our sentencing submission, we outlined what the government believed amounted to substantial assistance by Shirley Huntley," the spokesman said. "Beyond that, we cannot comment."

Huntley's sentencing and the disclosure of her work with the FBI came after three recent federal indictments in Manhattan and Brooklyn charging two of her Democratic colleagues -- Sen. John Sampson of Brooklyn and Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens -- and a Bronx state assemblyman with corruption.

Besides pleading guilty to embezzling from the Parents Information Network, a state-assisted program that was supposed to help parents interact with schools, Huntley also promised at her plea to repay $1,000 she had taken as a bribe from a businessman for trying to influence a lease at Kennedy Airport.

She faced between 18 and 24 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. Weinstein said Huntley deserved some credit for her cooperation, and sympathy because of family health problems. But he said her public position and the nature of the crime required a "strong message."

"This is a special case," Weinstein said, "of a member of the legislature who has pled guilty to stealing funds allocated for the specific purpose of aiding the children of New York."

He ordered Huntley to surrender in 10 days after a prison is designated. "Good luck," he said.

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