TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A former New Jersey assemblyman snared in the state’s largest corruption sting is headed to prison for 41 months.
Daniel Van Pelt was sentenced Friday by a federal judge for bribery and attempted extortion, ordering the Ocean County Republican to turn himself in after the holidays.
Van Pelt, who showed no emotion as his verdict was read in May, sobbed uncontrollably Friday as he apologized for his actions before U.S. District Court Judge Joel Pisano.
“I’m so sorry for all the pain I’ve caused and the shame I’ve put on the state,” he said, sobbing. “The way people look at me now, it’s disturbing.”
The 46-year old faced a maximum of 20 years for the attempted extortion charge and up to 10 years on the bribery charge, but federal sentencing guidelines called for between 33 and 41 months for both concurrently.
Prosecutors contended that in February 2009 Van Pelt had promised to use his political position to help an FBI informant, Solomon Dwek, get state permits in the lawmaker’s hometown of Waretown.
Van Pelt, who was on the Waretown council and redevelopment board, testified that he intended to begin a consulting business and said the $10,000 in cash that he received from Dwek in a hallway at Caesars casino in Atlantic City was a consulting retainer fee. He left both posts a week after taking the money.
Dwek, who testified for three days, became a government witness after pleading guilty to bank fraud. Wearing a wire, he ensnared an array of New Jersey officials by offering them cash in exchange for development approvals. Van Pelt was the second person convicted in the sting in which 44 people were arrested in July 2009.
Dwek’s undercover work also led to the arrests of several members of his Syrian Jewish community on money laundering charges. Dwek stands to reduce his own prison sentence from 40 years to perhaps less than nine years for his cooperation.
At trial Van Pelt emphasized that he consulted a lawyer who advises New Jersey legislators on ethics issues to see if the arrangement was acceptable. But on the witness stand, that lawyer, Marci Hochman, testified that her advice would have been different had Van Pelt disclosed that Dwek gave him money.
“I tried to follow the right steps, ask the right people,” Van Pelt said Friday. “I had no intention of willfully committing a crime. I needed to be better, but I wasn’t.”
Much of Friday’s hearing focused on whether Van Pelt perjured himself on the stand during his trial.
Pisano asked Van Pelt about when he realized what he did was wrong and why he didn’t come forward sooner.
Van Pelt said he was trustworthy and never believed anyone would try to initially bribe him.
Pisano sounded unconvinced.
“There’s nothing more than remorse and regret that he was convicted,” the judge said after sentencing Van Pelt to the upper end of the federal sentencing guidelines. Pisano also admonished Van Pelt for questioning the ethics attorney’s credibility.
Van Pelt was originally scheduled to be sentenced in August, but that changed after Van Pelt fired his defense team over the summer. His new attorney, Robert Margulies, described Van Pelt as a “good man who did a bad thing.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dustin Chao called Van Pelt as “his own worst enemy,” pointing out that a month ago Van Pelt was professing his innocence during an interview with ABC News. Chao handed Pisano a copy of the interview shortly before the judge announced his sentence.
“This defense,” Pisano concluded, “really was a folly.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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