Jeffrey Habay will soon serve jail time for violating an ethics law he backed as a state legislator.
Former state Rep. Jeffrey Habay
"He was hoisted by his own petard," said Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus, who sentenced the Shaler Republican yesterday to four to eight months behind bars, followed by 14 months' house arrest and two years' probation.
After prosecutors declined to plea bargain, Mr. Habay signed a waiver pleading no contest to 21 criminal counts, including threatening witnesses and forcing several legislative staffers to spend government time digging up dirt on his political rivals.
He will lose his government benefits and pension for counts of theft of services, said Assistant District Attorney Lawrence N. Claus.
In pleading no contest, Mr. Habay, 40, acknowledged that the Allegheny County district attorney had overwhelming evidence of criminal misconduct.
Mr. Claus gave a lengthy recitation of the facts and evidence he would have presented at trial. The judge then reviewed the penalties and fines for violating the laws the former legislator was charged with breaking.
"I think one or two of these statutes were passed by Mr. Habay," the judge said. "He broke the laws and he passed the laws, so the question becomes, what do I do with Mr. Habay?"
In fact, the six-term lawmaker voted to amend the State Ethics Act with regard to conflict of interest in 1998, prosecutors said. Then, in 2004, Mr. Habay requested that three of his staffers do campaign work and opposition research on government time, all felony counts in violation of the ethics act he supported.
The criminal behavior began in January 2004, after several political foes, including father and son Raymond and Robert Anderson, filed a civil suit against Mr. Habay in Harrisburg, requesting a review of his expenditures.
He began harassing and attempting to retaliate against the Andersons, and also pressured Robert's brother Daniel Anderson to withdraw the civil case. He asked his staff members to "act as a hit squad" looking for inflammatory material on the plaintiffs which he might use to threaten them to back down, Mr. Claus said.
In May 2004, another foe, George Radich, mailed Mr. Habay a self-adhesive envelope containing notice of a civil action against the legislator. Mr. Habay triggered a costly federal investigation when he notified police that this envelope contained a mysterious white powder that may have been anthrax.
It turned out to be Arm & Hammer baking soda, according to lab tests done by investigators. Postal workers said it would have been impossible for the letter to pass through processing with the quantity of powder in the envelope that Shaler police recovered when they responded to his home. Mr. Habay was convicted of filing false reports to police and lying about the white powder that he feared might be anthrax, considered by law to be a weapon of mass destruction.
After an ethics investigation began into Mr. Habay's dealings in May 2004, he continued to ask three staff members to work on government time, scouring government files for information that could be harmful to the men suing him.
In December 2005, a Common Pleas jury convicted Mr. Habay of an ethics violation in a case brought by the state attorney general. Judge Jeffrey A. Manning sentenced Mr. Habay to six to 12 months in jail and four years' probation in that case.
However, the second case, brought by the county district attorney, addressed the bulk of Mr. Habay's alleged criminal behavior.
Mr. Habay was subdued as he listened to the recitation of facts in court yesterday.
Judge Nauhaus said he was "fascinated on many levels with the case," calling himself "a cynic when it comes to politics."
"I lived through Richard Nixon," he said. "Mr. Habay, what should I do with you? I'm sure if the positions were reversed, I'd be going to jail."
In a rare lighthearted moment for the beleaguered defendant, Mr. Habay flashed a grin and said, "Your honor, I've been there. I don't think you'd want to be there."
Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said he thought Judge Nauhaus' ruling was appropriate.
"Politics is a dirty business. Things like this occur," said Mr. Thomassey, who also represents Democratic City Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle in a separate matter, on criminal charges of inappropriate use of government resources.
Mr. Habay owes U.S. postal investigators $8,650.84 restitution for resources expended investigating the anthrax claim. The judge also approved another $2,052.28 restitution to the state, money that will be withdrawn from Mr. Habay's pension fund.
Gabrielle Banks can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1370.