Alan Hevesi groomed himself to be a model politician, a lawmaker with the expertise of a political scientist and the energy to take on difficult issues.
And for decades, the Democratic college professor enjoyed respect and increasing visibility as his career took him from state assemblyman to New York City and state comptroller. Two of his sons followed him into the state Legislature.
But now Hevesi faces the possibility of prison after a twofold downfall that stands out as a symbol of scandal even in a state that's rife with it. Forced from office in 2006 after admitting he had a state employee chauffeur his wife, Hevesi has now pleaded guilty to a second felony charge for partaking in a feast of influence-peddling at the giant state pension fund he oversaw.
Hevesi's trajectory has baffled people who know and worked with him. And it has pushed Hevesi, at 71, to reflect publicly on family sorrows, personal shame and his political rise and ruin as he tries to make a case for mercy at his sentencing on Friday.
"I have failed to live up to the trust of all New Yorkers and destroyed my reputation," he wrote to the court in a pre-sentencing submission. "I have also humiliated myself and made my family suffer."
The annals of political infamy are embarrassingly ample in Albany, where plenty of powerful and promising figures have seen their careers end in scandal. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, resigned in 2008 after he was named as a client of a high-priced prostitution ring. Former Republican state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was convicted of a federal charge of using his public position to enrich himself. About a dozen other elected and appointed state officials have been convicted or accused of crimes in the last two years.
Still, Hevesi's fall is "really stunning," says Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a good-government watchdog. "He came across as a very different type of person."
Descended from a prominent Hungarian Jewish family, Hevesi was born and raised in Queens' comfortable Forest Hills section. He still lives there in a home he's had for 36 years. He taught political science and worked as a state senator's aide while studying for a doctorate from Columbia University. He got his degree and won an Assembly seat in 1971.
During 22 years in the Assembly, Hevesi gained a reputation as an impressive debater equipped with erudition and a yen for policy. He wrote more than 100 laws and was known for his work on health care.
Hevesi's sons, former state Sen. Daniel Hevesi and current Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, were elected after he moved on.
Hevesi won the New York City comptroller's job on his second try in 1993, came up short in a 2001 bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor and took the statewide comptroller's election the next year. The race attracted unusual attention, with Hevesi describing Republican opponent and former Assemblyman John Faso as politically right of France's King Louis XIV and Faso questioning Hevesi's stewardship of the city's pension fund.
"But the magnitude of what happened certainly surprised me when he became state comptroller," Faso said in an interview this week.
Hevesi forced more financial transparency from hundreds of public authorities. But as he ran for re-election, Hevesi faced questions about his own use of public money.
Weeks before the 2006 balloting, the state ethics commission found he had violated the law by using a staffer as a driver for his seriously ill wife for three years and not paying for it until after Republican opponent J. Christopher Callaghan raised the issue.
Still, Hevesi was re-elected by a wide margin, saying his "mistake should not erase 35 years of public service." But about six weeks later, he pleaded guilty to defrauding the government and resigned. He paid a $5,000 fine.
It was the end of his political career but just the beginning of his legal problems. Over the next four years, an investigation by then-state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo exposed a web of "pay-to-play" practices at the now-$141 billion state employees' pension fund Hevesi had overseen as sole trustee. Eight people have pleaded guilty; more than a dozen other people and financial firms have agreed to pay a combined $170 million in civil penalties.
Hevesi admitted in October that in awarding pension fund investments, he "improperly favored" a venture capitalist who paid for at least $75,000 worth of travel expenses to Israel and Italy for the comptroller, his family and other officials. Hevesi also acknowledged knowing about roughly $900,000 in other favors the businessman did for him or others in his orbit, including a total of $500,000 in campaign contributions to Hevesi and other candidates he or his staff suggested.
Even some who ran against or investigated Hevesi say they're saddened by his fall from grace, and those who served alongside him grasp to make sense of it.
"With great talents come enormous flaws, and the flaws, in the end, are what is left in the public memory. But the achievements were real," says former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Democrat who was in the Legislature with Hevesi for a decade.
The only person sentenced so far in the pension fund probe, former Hevesi political adviser Henry "Hank" Morris, is serving 16 months to four years in prison.
Current state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office says Hevesi deserves the same sentence as Morris, the maximum for their crimes.
Hevesi's pre-sentencing submission notes his public service and opens a window on a private life streaked with pain, from his mother's 1963 suicide as she struggled with cancer to his wife's long history of debilitating medical problems and three suicide attempts.
And in a series of letters, Hevesi's wife, children, doctors, lawyers and friends sketch a poignant, if purposeful, picture of a fallen politician.
The comptroller brought down for getting others to driving his wife now spends most days driving the roughly 20 miles from his house to the nursing home where she lives, taking her to doctor's appointments around the city, according to the papers.
Most of the colleagues and friends who filled his political life avoid him, and charities he'd long supported are reluctant to accept him as a volunteer, they say.
"He is extremely cognizant of his destroyed reputation," writes his daughter, Laura, "and his new title as 'disgraced former comptroller.'
Associated Press researcher Monika Mathur contributed to this report.