Monday, March 27, 2006

Foti Sentenced to 60 Days in Jail

Former Assembly Majority Leader Steve Foti was forcefully rebuked by the judge at his sentencing today, then sentenced to 60 days in jail and two years probation. Prosecutor Brian Blanchard had recommended 30 days in jail and two years probation.

Dane County Judge Steven Ebert said Foti "aided and abetted" the corruption in the Capitol. Had Foti gone to trial, and the same evidence had been presented, it "surely would have resulted in a conviction," Ebert said.

"You were a part of a broader, deceitful assault, I think, against the people of Wisconsin," Ebert said.

"In all other respects, you acted honorably. It is certainly a shame that partisan politics, and pure greed or allowing the ends to justify the means, clouded your good character in this case," Ebert said.

Foti pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor ethics violation in January, and as part of his plea agreed to testify in any future related cases. Dane County DA Blanchard said he felt Foti complied with that agreement, but Ebert admonished Foti for his behavior on the witness stand during the trial of former Rep. Scott Jensen. Ebert said he noted at least five times during Foti's testimony when Foti seemed "evasive or uncooperative" and the prosecution had to impeach what he was saying with prior statements.

"Your demeanor and the content of your testimony, in my opinion, left something to be desired," Ebert said.

Foti was also fined $1,000 plus costs, and was ordered to serve 240 hours of community service as a condition of probation.

Ebert ordered Foti to begin serving his jail sentence within 60 days, but his attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, asked if he could begin sooner. Gimbel suggested Foti begin serving on Easter Sunday and Ebert agreed.

Though Ebert said he has no problem with allowing work release, he did say if it were up to him, Foti would be spending his nights in the jail. "My feeling about the issue of confinement means confinement and not electronic monitoring," Ebert said.

Ebert reserved a ruling on an order of restitution until a later date. Blanchard said the judge expressed that he would like to handle the restitution for all the "caucus scandal" Republicans -- former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, former Assistant Majority Leader Bonnie Ladwig, and former Foti aide Sherry Schultz -- on the same date. Blanchard said that date may or not be May 16, when Jensen, Ladwig and Schultz are scheduled for sentencing.

The restitution request from Blanchard in the Foti case included $27,981.75 for legal fees paid by the state, and $306,675 to repay salary and benefits paid to Schultz.

In his pre-sentence statement, Blanchard said Foti's "liability was less than that of Scott Jensen."

"It was essentially Scott Jensen's project, although it was on the payroll of Mr. Foti," he said.

Gimbel said his client suffered "public humiliation, embarrassment and extraordinary financial consequences," and said he took responsibility for his actions.

"He stepped to the plate, he took responsibility, he eliminated the chance to win the case by not going to trial, and I think that's a very significant step toward recognizing and accepting responsibility for the consequences of that behavior," Gimbel said.

Foti has agreed in writing to reimburse the state for his legal fees, to the fine of $1,000, and "agreed in concept" to some restitution relating to Schultz, Gimbel said.

In a statement read to Ebert, Foti was contrite. "I accept full responsibility for the wrongful conduct that brought me to this court today," he said. Foti added that because others were committing the acts he was accused of, it didn't make it right.

Foti apologized to his former constituents and his family for causing them embarrassment.

Foti, with his daughter, a freshman at Marquette University, under his arm, spoke briefly with reporters as they swarmed around him after the hearing. He was cornered as he waited for the elevator to reach the 8th floor of the courthouse.

He said he disagreed with Ebert's characterization of his Jensen case testimony. "I said everything honestly and by the book, and I assume that Jensen's attorney wouldn't have attacked me during closing if he felt I had some useful comments," Foti said.

At the Jensen trial, Jensen's attorney Stephen Meyer called Foti "pathetic" and said "he traded his integrity for 30 pieces of silver."

Asked if he'd appeal the sentence, Foti said, "I'm going to take a good, strong look at it."

"I haven't decided that yet. We'll just let it settle down for a bit," said Gimbel, adding they have 60 days to appeal.

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