Citing a breach of the public trust, a Los Angeles federal judge Friday sentenced James Wilson, a member of the Long Beach City Council for 16 years and an associate of convicted political fixer W. Patrick Moriarty, to three years in prison for mail fraud.
Moriarty testified during Wilson's trial that he had hired the councilman as a "personal consultant" to lobby for non-explosive fireworks legislation and introduce him to public officials. Wilson was indicted Jan. 23 on charges of accepting about $54,000 from Moriarty from September, 1978, to March, 1983.
The 58-year-old Wilson, who resigned from his City Council post Thursday, listened to the sentence calmly. His lawyer, Terry Amdur, told U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie, that his client planned to appeal.
Rafeedie sentenced Wilson to prison on a single count of mail fraud. Sentences on 20 other mail fraud charges were suspended, and the judge placed Wilson on probation for five years after he completes his prison term.
In sentencing Wilson, who suffers from a heart condition, Rafeedie noted the "impressive array of support" the former city councilman had received from the community, including his former Long Beach City Council colleagues, who suggested that Wilson be placed on probation, and the Long Beach Press Telegram, which editorialized on Wilson's behalf.
"It is not a happy duty for a judge to sentence a man who has the support of his community," Rafeedie said. "It's a difficult job, particularly since Mr. Wilson is suffering a serious condition."
But, Rafeedie said that "a breach of the public trust is at the heart of this" and the court "has a duty to perform." He noted Moriarty's relationship with Wilson, who received $500 a month, then $1,500 a month from the wealthy Orange County businessman over a period of about five years.
"Mr. Moriarty had done this to other people," the judge said. "He likes to put people in his pocket. Moriarty believed that Wilson was a sure thing. It was worth it to him."
Moriarty--who pleaded guilty to mail fraud in connection with charges of money-laundering, fraud and bribery of public officials--was sentenced Jan. 31 to seven years in prison.
Wilson acknowledged in a courtroom statement Friday that he had used "bad judgment." But, he said, "I didn't do anything to harm the people I represent. Given the opportunity, one learns by his mistakes."
The prosecutor, Richard E. Drooyan, chief assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said that Wilson represented a "tough sentence" for the court to decide. But, he reminded Rafeedie that Wilson was a public official who had accepted money over a five-year period.
Wilson was indicted in a widespread investigation of Moriarty's political machinations in which the business executive reputedly laundered more than $260,000 in hidden contributions to politicians throughout the state. Of those charged so far, nine have either been convicted or pleaded guilty. One was acquitted.
Another city councilman, Walter J. (Jake) Egan of Carson, is the 11th defendant charged in the Moriarty inquiry. Egan was accused in an indictment returned last month of accepting illegal contributions to support a project favored by Moriarty. He faces trial on nine counts of mail fraud and two counts of attempted interference with commerce by extortion.