BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – A federal judge upheld former state Sen. Ernest Newton's five-year prison sentence Monday, saying a lesser punishment would not send the message that an epidemic of political corruption in Connecticut must stop.
"He made a business out of his elected public office," said U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas, who also said that Newton repeatedly betrayed the public trust.
Newton, 50, was sentenced last year to five years in prison after pleading guilty to accepting a $5,000 bribe, using campaign contributions for personal expenses and failing to report the improper income on his federal tax return.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals returned the case for resentencing, asking Nevas to explain how he arrived at a 60-month sentence when the 2003 federal sentencing guidelines called for only 33 to 41 months.
Nevas has said he was operating under stiffer guidelines in place in 2005 that called for a sentence of 70 to 87 months and that he had actually imposed a lower sentence.
"The 2003 guidelines would not send the necessary message that corruption by elected officials would not be tolerated and that the epidemic of political corruption in this state has got to stop," Nevas said Monday, noting that the wave of cases led to the nickname "Corrupticut."
Newton, who is serving his sentence at Fort Dix in New Jersey, said he is working to pay restitution and tutoring inmates trying to earn their general equivalency diplomas.
"I want your honor to know, the Ernie Newton who stands before you today has become a productive member of Fort Dix society," he said, adding later, "I don't feel the punishment fits the crime."
Nevas, citing Newton's rehabilitation from substance abuse and efforts to pay restitution, said that he would have reduced the sentence to 5 1/2 years Monday but did not have the authority to do so because the appeals court had only ordered him to explain the original sentence.
Newton's attorney said the appeal before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court will continue.
Nevas said in December that he intended to maintain the same sentence regardless of which guidelines were used, saying Newton betrayed the public trust and undermined public confidence in the integrity of elected officials.
Newton says the sentence he received was too harsh, citing the mean prison term for bribery of 21 months in recent years. Newton's attorneys say the older, more lenient guidelines should be used because that's when he committed the offenses.
Nevas rejected that argument, saying Newton was convicted of other charges besides bribery.
Prosecutors argued that the Bridgeport Democrat deserved the sentence for repeatedly engaging in misconduct amid a wave of corruption in Connecticut. Authorities say Newton routinely used campaign donations for personal expenses and accepted numerous bribes over the years.
In 2004, Newton repeatedly met with a figure connected with a reputed mobster, authorities said. As a result, he discussed intervening with police officials following a raid on a "strip joint," intervening with a city official to promote a joint venture, and obtaining the individual's assistance in getting a bail bondsman for Newton's son, prosecutors wrote.
Newton was undeterred even as other elected officials in Connecticut, including former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, were convicted of corruption, prosecutors said. Ganim is also serving his sentence at Fort Dix.