Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Burke Sentenced to 6 Months in Jail

Former Dem state Sen. Brian Burke -- once a candidate for attorney general -- said at his sentencing today that he was "deeply sorry," adding: "It's my fault, and I make no excuses."

Burke, D-Milwaukee, was sentenced in Madison today to six months in jail after pleading guilty in October to one felony count of misconduct in office and one misdemeanor count of obstructing an officer.

Dane County Judge William Foust also ordered $75,000 in restitution, which he said could be paid by Burke's campaign fund, and fined Burke an additional $2,500. Foust did not include probation as part of the sentence, citing already overloaded probation agent workloads and stating that he doubted that Burke was in need of the rehabilitative effects of probation.

Burke appeared in a gray, striped suit and light blue shirt. He quietly sat upright and alert throughout the proceeding, and made a brief statement to the court in a steady voice.

"I realize that I'm the reason that we're here today, and I want you to know that I am deeply sorry for what I've done and what I failed to do as a public official," Burke said. "It's my fault and I make no excuses. I'm the one who made the wrong choices, I failed the people who elected me. And it's very difficult because my wife and my three daughters have suffered as much or more than I have, and I realize that it is entirely my fault - I have no one else to blame. Judge, I will spend the rest of my life atoning for this. Thank you."

The six-month jail sentence was what the prosecutor, Dane Co. DA Brian Blanchard, had asked for, and he sounded satisfied following the proceeding.

"I thought it was a fair sentence, and appropriate," Blanchard told reporters. "I thought the judge considered everything submitted by both parties, and I think it was a just result."

Burke's attorney, Bob Friebert, argued against a jail sentence, saying that Burke has already been punished enough for his crime. Friebert painted his client as a man who has been financially, professionally and personally devastated by the case and the charges that he will never live down.

"Even in death he won't escape this," Friebert argued, predicting that the case will be the first line in Burke's obituary.

"Brian is a fallen angel, but he is not the devil," Friebert said. "He's a good and decent person who made a mistake."

But Foust said when he first learned he had drawn the case, he believed the gravity of the charges could have warranted prison time.

"You stole money from the taxpayers of Wisconsin to fund your run for higher office," Foust said. "It always looked that simple to me -- if the state could prove it -- and it looks that simple to me now."

While Burke's guilty pleas mitigated the need for hard time, a strong message needs to be sent with the sentence, said the judge. "I think anybody that steals $75,000 has to be punished."

Burke can serve the term in Milwaukee, near his home, and he is scheduled to begin serving in the next 60 days. He will have work-release privileges.

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