| Miguel Martinez, a former city councilman from Upper Manhattan, was sentenced to five years in prison on Tuesday on three felony counts involving the theft of $106,000, some of which was intended for nonprofit organizations.
Mr. Martinez, a Democrat who represented parts of Washington Heights and Inwood, was running for a third term when he abruptly resigned on July 14. Two days later, he pleaded guilty to stealing money from his Council office and two nonprofit groups financed by the city.
“Judge, I stand before you remorseful and shamed for the offenses I committed,” Mr. Martinez, 39, told Judge Paul A. Crotty in Federal District Court in Manhattan. “I want to apologize to my family, my friends, my constituents in the 10th District and to the institution of the New York City Council.”
Mr. Martinez’s friends and family packed the courtroom, at some points sobbing as he made a final plea for leniency. He asked the judge to consider his years of service to the community and the toll a long sentence would take on his three children: an 18-year-old daughter and two sons, 4 and 1.
“Not being there for my daughter’s college achievement,” he said, “not being there when my 1-year-old says ‘Pop’ for the first time, and possibly losing the close bonds I’ve developed with my 4-year-old is something I never thought would happen to me.”
He added that being elected to the Council was one of the proudest achievements of his life. “If I could change time, I would do things differently,” he said. “However, I can’t do that, Your Honor.”
Judge Crotty expressed sympathy, saying, “There is much to be commended in Mr. Martinez’s career.” But the judge said that did not excuse his abuse of the public’s trust.
“He betrayed his office and violated his oath of office, and did so over a prolonged period of time,” the judge said.
Mr. Martinez admitted that through much of his time on the Council, beginning in 2002, he approved fake billing invoices to his office and pocketed $51,000. He also admitted misappropriating $55,000 meant for two nonprofit groups in his district, the Washington Heights Art Center and the Upper Manhattan Council Assisting Neighbors.
He pleaded guilty to honest-services fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each count carried a maximum sentence of 20 years, but under a plea agreement, the government recommended that he serve 57 to 71 months. Judge Crotty gave him 60 months for each count, with the sentences to be served concurrently, as well as two years of supervised release. Mr. Martinez must also pay $106,000 in restitution.
The prison sentence was a relatively rare punishment for a Council member. The last member to go to prison was Angel Rodriguez, a Brooklyn Democrat, who received four years and four months in 2003 for his part in a bribery and extortion scheme.
Mr. Martinez’s lawyers presented him as a lifelong public servant who immigrated from the Dominican Republic with his family as a child, fought against drugs in his neighborhood and appropriated money as a Council member for low-income housing and school computers in one of the poorest districts in the city.
At one point, Mr. Martinez’s lead lawyer, G. Michael Bellinger, said the judge should consider that his client had turned himself in “without knowing the government was breathing down his neck.”
“How can you say he did not know?” Judge Crotty responded, citing an investigation that had been going on for more than a year.
Brent S. Wible, an assistant United States attorney, noted that dozens of subpoenas had been issued to Mr. Martinez’s family members and associates in the weeks before he turned himself in.
Mr. Martinez is the first Council member to be charged in a two-year investigation by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan and the city’s Department of Investigation into the Council’s distribution of discretionary money to favored nonprofit groups.
Mr. Martinez, who has been free on bail, was given until Feb. 16 to report to prison, but he told the judge he would like to begin serving his sentence on Jan. 4.
source: New York Times