Delivering the message that political corruption will meet with harsh punishment, a federal judge Monday sentenced former Sen. Paul Carpenter to 12 years in prison for extorting money from special interest groups.
The sentence is the longest imposed in the ongoing federal investigation of corruption in the state Capitol that has resulted in the conviction of six public officials.
“It is a case of proven acceptance of bribe money,” said U.S. District Judge Edward Garcia in imposing the stiff sentence, adding that the evidence against Carpenter was “overwhelming.”
Carpenter, who was found guilty in September of four counts of racketeering, extortion and conspiracy, was ordered to report to federal prison Jan. 7--the same day he would have been sworn in to a second term as a member of the State Board of Equalization. The Norwalk Democract was convicted for actions while he was a state senator.
Appearing grim, Carpenter declined the opportunity to speak to the court before the sentence was imposed. “Your honor, on the advice of counsel, I do not wish to make a statement,” he told the judge.
After the court hearing, Carpenter’s lawyer, Gerard Hinckley, said the former senator was “extremely upset” by the length of the term. “He’s very, very upset,” Hinckley said. “He’s distraught.”
With his sentencing, Carpenter was officially removed from his Board of Equalization seat representing much of Los Angeles County. Although he was reelected in November to the tax board post, he is barred from taking office.
Carpenter, 63, will be eligible for parole in four years--just when his second term on the Board of Equalization would have expired.
Under the law, he could end up serving less time than former Sen. Joseph B. Montoya, who was convicted earlier this year on similar corruption charges. Montoya, who was sentenced under different rules, received a 6 1/2-year prison sentence and must serve at least 5 1/2 years before he can be released.
Jim Clanton, who served on the Carpenter jury until illness forced him to quit during the deliberations, was on hand to witness the sentencing. He said the 12-year term was warranted and should serve as a warning to other elected officials.
“You start to feel sorry for him but there are too many things to overlook,” he said. “I think a lot of others should be worrying about it, too. There’s just too much corruption going on.”
The jury found Carpenter guilty of taking a $20,000 campaign contribution from a federal undercover agent in exchange for agreeing to help push legislation benefiting a bogus company set up by the FBI. The jury also convicted Carpenter of attempting to extort money from lobbyists, including $1,000 from a representative of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn.
As part of his sentence, the judge ordered Carpenter to forfeit the $20,000 he received from the federal agent and to pay $1,000 in restitution to the prison guards’ association, which had contributed that amount to Carpenter’s campaign.
Assistant U.S. Atty. John Panneton had urged the judge to sentence Carpenter to a 15-year term, arguing that Carpenter lied under oath and showed no remorse for his crimes. He accused Carpenter of “arrogance” and believing that he was above the law.
“He knew the money was being offered as a bribe,” Panneton said. “He willingly took the money. . . . To this day, he does not believe he did anything wrong.”
Panneton said Carpenter’s actions contributed to voters’ willingness in November to approve Proposition 140, which imposed strict limits on the length of time legislators and other elected officials can hold office.
“People in this state are fed up with the likes of this man,” Panneton said.
Defense attorney Hinckley urged Garcia to sentence Carpenter to perform community service, or at most to a year in prison. Citing the former senator’s age and high blood pressure, Hinckley said a lengthy prison term “might very well be a life sentence.”
Hinckley also argued it was unfair to expect Carpenter to show remorse when he believes he did not break the law. “Mr. Carpenter feels he is innocent of the charges,” the attorney said. “He knows he did not extort the money.”
Carpenter will appeal his conviction, Hinckley said. The judge refused to allow Carpenter to stay out of prison while the higher courts review the case.
In addition to the convictions of Carpenter and Montoya, legislative aides Amiel Jaramillo and Karin Watson have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the federal corruption investigation. Former Yolo County Sheriff Rod Graham and his former undersheriff, Wendell Luttrull, also pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
Gov.-elect Pete Wilson will appoint Carpenter’s successor on the State Board of Equalization after he is inaugurated Jan. 7. Among those under consideration for the post are Matt Fong, the Republican who ran for state controller in the November election and lost, and former Assemblyman Charles Bader (R-Pomona), who lost his bid to defeat Sen. Ruben S. Ayala (D-Chino).