Judge sends ex-councilwoman to prison

He recommends tearful, apologetic Twanda Carlisle spend 1 to 2 years at minimum-security facility

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Despite a tearful apology yesterday to a judge and a final plea for mercy, former City Councilwoman Twanda D. Carlisle was ordered to serve her sentence for corruption in a state penitentiary.

Common Pleas Judge John A. Zottola recommended that she be held in a minimum-security facility beginning March 10.

Ms. Carlisle wiped tears from her eyes throughout the 40-minute proceeding.

Her attorney, Patrick J. Thomassey, called her to stand before the judge and clarify any perception that she was not contrite when Judge Zottola sentenced her earlier this month to one to two years in prison for moving $43,160 of city money through consultants to personal and campaign bank accounts.

"I think it was a misconception of what I said the last time that I was here," she said. "I did violate the law and I am so humbly sorry, your honor.

"I'm sorry on so many levels. I apologize to this court. I apologize to the 9th Council District, to my family and to the city of Pittsburgh, who I truly hurt."

She said if the judge would permit her to remain in the community, on electronic monitoring or house arrest with work release, she was prepared to begin a new job and volunteer at a neighborhood school, a senior center and the nonprofit group Dress for Success.

The Rev. Benjamin Calvert of Mount Ararat Baptist Church told the judge, "All of us have come to places where we've needed leniency, mercy and grace. ... It's important Twanda Carlisle has an opportunity to repay her debt to society."

Mr. Thomassey said his client had paid restitution "in every sense." He told the judge that sending her to "a state prison where murderers, robbers and people who commit violent crimes are seems unfair, your honor."

A two-year sentence automatically warrants state prison time, and Mr. Thomassey asked for "just two days less" so Ms. Carlisle could serve an alternative sentence.

Assistant District Attorney Lawrence N. Claus had said he would oppose anything less: "She was a public official who used her very position to steal from the public coffers."

He said her kickback scheme lasted two years, involved 60 transactions and roped three law-abiding employees into criminal activity.

Judge Zottola said he was glad she had cleared up any misconceptions about her apology. At her sentencing, she had said that "out of zealousness, maybe I did do things in an improper manner," and in her resignation letter in November wrote that she couldn't "continue to volunteer my services" after the court seized her wages and pension contributions.

The judge said yesterday he hoped she'd obtain employment and help with community agencies after her sentence. He said he'd put a lot of thought into her sentence and denied her motion to revise it.

She must report to the Allegheny County Jail on March 10. From there, officials will transport her to the State Correctional Institution Muncy, the central booking facility for female inmates.

From there, the state Department of Corrections may reassign her to Cambridge Springs, which Susan McNaughton, a spokeswoman for the corrections department, said is a low-security, dormitory-style woman's facility on the campus of a former college in Crawford County.

Gabrielle Banks can be reached at gbanks@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1370.


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