By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A political consultant convicted of stealing nearly $1 million from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg during his 2009 re-election campaign was sentenced to between 1 1/3 and four years in prison Monday in state Supreme Court.
Prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office had accused John Haggerty of soliciting $1.1 million in funds from the billionaire mayor to pay for an extensive poll-watching operation that never materialized. Instead, they claimed, Haggerty used the bulk of the money he received to buy his childhood home.
Haggerty was convicted of second-degree larceny and money laundering following a four-week trial in October but acquitted him of a more serious larceny charge.
In a brief statement to the court before his sentencing on Monday, Haggerty said he regretted his actions.
Bloomberg, a political independent, won a third term in 2009 after successfully overturning the two-term limit on city mayors.
Prosecutors recommended a sentence of four to 12 years in prison but Haggerty's lawyers, Raymond Castello and Dennis Vacco, argued that a sentence of probation and community service would be more appropriate for what they described as an isolated incident.
Haggerty, who ended up with $750,000 of the mayor's money, has agreed to sell the home he bought and return the stolen funds, lawyers on both sides said Monday.
Haggerty was a vendor working on behalf of the Independence Party, which supported Bloomberg's candidacy. The party also has agreed to forfeit $150,000 of the funds, Assistant District Attorney Eric Seidel said Monday, although it will not have to return approximately $200,000 it had already spent at the time of Haggerty's indictment.
BLOOMBERG ON STAND
The trial provided a rare sight, as Bloomberg - along with a parade of his most trusted aides, most of whom have held powerful positions in City Hall - testified against Haggerty.
Under aggressive questioning from Haggerty's lawyers, Bloomberg maintained his composure but was forced to discuss the spending on his self-financed $105 million campaign.
Haggerty's lawyers sought to paint their client as a scapegoat for a win-at-all-costs mayor who did not care whether the poll-watching operation took place, as long as he stayed in power.
They also suggested the mayor's decision to funnel the money through the Independence Party, rather than pay Haggerty directly, was an attempt to hide its role in paying for poll watching, which Democrats have criticized in the past as a form of voter suppression.
By voluntarily giving the money to the party, the lawyers argued, the mayor had effectively given up control of it and therefore could not be a victim of theft.
Prosecutors asserted that the mayor and his aides would never have signed off on the expenditure without assurances from Haggerty that it would fund an Election Day operation. They pointed to a budget Haggerty proposed that included 1,355 poll watchers, a document that Seidel labeled "pure fiction" during the trial.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Edith Honan and Bill Trott)