June 4th, 2009 12:21 PM by Sherry Lee
McCarty calls herself 'a criminal' as judge hits her with 3.5-year sentence; prison term begins immediately
By SUSAN SPENCER-WENDEL, SONJA ISGER and TONY DORIS
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 04, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH — A judge this morning handed a 3 1/2 -year prison sentence to former Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty for turning the public's confidence in government into a confidence game.
U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks ordered her taken into custody immediately.
"I never thought of myself as a criminal, but I am one," McCarty, 54, said in a tearful statement to the court.
"She got off easy," said Earley, who had often clashed with McCarty on internal GOP politics. "Over the years she's always sided with the developers and the big landowners. She's never cared what the people want."
Before the hearing, Earley and fellow activist John Parsons showed up outside the courthouse wearing the numeral "5" on pieces of paper attached to their chests. They wanted McCarty to get the maximum sentence.
McCarty's defense team called the 3.5-year sentence a substantial break from the five years prosecutors had sought, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Carlton called it sufficient to send the message that public corruption is unacceptable.
"It will garner the attention of any public official," Carlton said.
She also must pay a $100,000 fine, said Middlebrooks, who rejected arguments that federal authorities have no business meddling in the violations of local elected officials.
McCarty, wearing pearls and cream-colored jacket, and a gaggle of lawyers showed up in the courtroom around 10:30 a.m. for the sentencing hearing.
McCarty had arrived at the courthouse about 9 a.m., flanked by two men and with a grin for the waiting cameras, but had no comment as she headed inside.
McCarty, of Delray Beach, served 18 years on the Palm Beach County Commission.
She pleaded guilty in March to a single corruption charge.
The case stemmed partly from free resort stays she accepted from a Delray Beach developer, at the same time that prosecutors say she and Newell conspired to give the same company the county's contract to build a convention center hotel. The feds also say she manipulated county bond awards to benefit herself and her underwriter husband, Kevin.
Defense attorney David Bogenschutz urged the judge to hand down a one-year sentence - a fraction of the sentences handed out to Newell and Masilotti, who got five-year terms for their corrupt acts.
His argument: McCarty's crimes were less weighty, and even prosecutors said she apparently netted hundreds of thousands of dollars less than either Masilotti or Newell did.
But prosecutors, responding to a question from Middlebrooks about parity, said her corruption was longer-running and more egregious.
The federal prosecutors - who have won corruption sentences for the three county commissioners, one power-broker lawyer, one businessman and two West Palm Beach city commissioners in the past three years - said McCarty deserves the full five-year maximum spelled out in her plea deal. Public servants need to get the message, they say.
Sentencing guidelines would normally call for at least a seven-year sentence for the crimes McCarty has admitted, prosecutors wrote in court filings this week.
Staff writer George Bennett contributed to this story.