HARRISBURG --Bonusgate defendent Brett Cott received a sentence of 21 to 60 months on three charges this morning.
He also received three fines totaling $11,000 and was told to make restitution to the state of $50,000. The sentence was imposed by Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis, who rejected Mr. Cott's defense attorny's plea for probation. Mr. Cott was found guilty on three charges: conflict of interest, theft of services, and conspiracy.
The office of state Attorney General Tom Corbett had argued for a stiff sentence, claiming Mr. Cott had seriously misused taxpayer dollars in running as many as 20 political campaigns in Western Pennsylvania from 2004 to 2006.
Mr. Cott's attorney, Bryan Walk, had claimed that the prosecution was political and said that Mr. Cott was aqcuitted on 39 of 42 charges brought against him. However Judge Lewis said that Mr. Cott's offenses were serious and deserved time in state prison.
The judge said Mr. Cott spent most of his time that was paid for on taxpayer dollars "orchestrating and mastermining political activity." The judge said "public money was used like monopoly money to run campaigns. Some potential candidates were scared off by this taxpayer funded juggernaut. The public was also victimized."
He said probation was not an option because that "would demean the seriousness of the crimes."
Deputy Attorney General Patrick Blessington said that Mr. Cott was paid salary of $223,000 plus bonuses of over $39,000 from 2004 to 2006 for basically running political campaigns. Mr. Cott is the first of the Bonusgate defendents to be sentenced.
Reactions to the sentence from prosecutors and the defense differed markedly.
The stiff sentence "sends a loud and clear message that this kind of activity [illegal use of taxpayers funds for political campaigns] will not be tolerated, and people will pay for their crimes,'' said Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo.
In a brief submitted to the judge, the state contended that Mr. Cott's "demeanor'' wasn't appropriate, meaning he hadn't shown "contrition or remorse'' for his illegal actions. He said Mr. Cott's ongoing defiant attitude and lack of remorse were "appropriate legal factors'' to be considered during the sentencing.
Lawyer Walk, however, said he was shocked and "extremely disappointed'' by the severity of the sentence, which could keep Mr. Cott in state prison for up to five years.
"There are drug dealers and violent offenders who don't get that much time,'' he said. "We didn't expect this.''
He said that since Mr. Cott had no previous arrests or convictions, and since the jury had found him not guilty on 39 of the 42 charges that the state brought against him, he should have gotten probation and no jail time.
Mr. Walk said the judge's sentencing decision seemed to have been already prepared, even before this morning's hearing, where the defense attorney spent almost an hour saying what a hard worker and good person Mr. Cott is.
Mr. Walk said that if two of the original Bonusgate defendants, former House Democratic staffers Mike Manzo and Jeff Foreman -- who made a deal to cooperate with the state and testified against Mr. Cott, "don't get sentences that are more than Mr. Cott's, then justice is dead.''
Tom Barnes: firstname.lastname@example.org