By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former New York State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday for taking more than $20,000 in bribes.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan federal court imposed the sentence in front of a crowd of Stevenson supporters, some of whom cried as her decision was announced.
"I'm sorry it ever happened," Stevenson told Preska before she sentenced him. "We all have faults. I ask you please to have mercy on me."
The sentence came after a spate of public corruption prosecutions in the past year involving state lawmakers.
A federal jury in January found Stevenson, a Democrat from the Bronx and a third-generation politician, guilty of four counts, including conspiracy to engage in honest services fraud and bribery.
Prosecutors accused Stevenson, 47, of accepting $22,000 in bribes in exchange for various official acts, including securing legislation favoring a network of adult day-care centers operated by four businessmen.
According to the indictment, the businessmen paid Stevenson to push through a bill that would have effectively given them a monopoly by creating a three-year moratorium on constructing adult day-care centers in New York City while exempting them from the law.
The men, Igor Belyansky, Rostislav Belyansky, Igor Tsimerman and David Binman, pleaded guilty before Stevenson's trial and were sentenced to between nine months and two years in prison. Stevenson's lawyer, Murray Richman, had asked Preska to impose a similar sentence, but the judge noted that Congress has said public officials involved in bribery schemes deserve stiffer penalties than their co-conspirators.
"In shameless pursuit of profit, Eric Stevenson took bribes and put his own personal interests before those of his constituents," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
Another assemblyman, Democrat Nelson Castro, cooperated with investigators. He resigned from office in April 2013 when the prosecution was made public and pleaded guilty in August to federal and state charges of perjury and other crimes.
All told, at least 30 state legislators in Albany have faced legal or ethics problems since 2000.
Most recently, a federal jury in Brooklyn convicted Assemblyman William Boyland in March of bribery and other crimes.
Other cases against state lawmakers are pending. State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Queens Democrat, faces charges that he tried to buy a spot on the Republican ballot in the 2013 New York City mayoral race, while State Senator John Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been accused of stealing proceeds from the sales of foreclosed properties to fund an unsuccessful bid for district attorney.
Both have pleaded not guilty.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Noeleen Walder)