He stole and he lied, but Brian Davis will not spend one minute in prison or pay one penny in fines thanks to the sentence handed down Wednesday by Chief City Court Judge Thomas Amodeo.
Instead, Davis was granted a conditional discharge, ordered to perform 200 hours of community service -- of his own choosing -- and prohibited from taking a job involving the handling of money for a year.
It could have been worse -- indeed, some will consider it a slap on the wrist -- considering that each of the two criminal counts he pleaded guilty to last November carried a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
To say nothing of the fact that Davis, in pleading guilty to pocketing $1,900 in campaign funds for personal use and masking his actions by filing false disclosure reports with the state Board of Elections, became the city's first elected official in more than 50 years to end up with a criminal record as a result of his conduct in office.
Unfortunately, the sentence is par for the course when it comes to public corruption around these parts.
John Doscher, chief of the district attorney's special investigations and prosecution bureau, said the Davis case was the 50th case he has handled since 1989 involving the misuse of public funds by someone on the public payroll. Most were rank-and-file employees, but about a half-dozen of them were elected officials.
Doscher said he doesn't recall on of them receiving a jail sentence. Only a small number were fined, he said.
I find this telling. White-collar crime by politicians and government employees just isn't a big deal when it comes to judges and prosecutors. Not enough to actually impose what the public would consider real punishment.
I quizzed Amodeo and Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III after Davis was sentenced and came away thinking their jobs leave them with a different perspective -- and frankly, a little tone deaf -- when it comes to while-collar crimes committed by people who get paid by taxpayers.
For Amodeo, his decision was pretty straightforward. He read the pre-sentencing report issued by the county Probation Department, asked the DA in attendance if he had any thoughts, and then pretty much imposed the recommended sentence. Amodeo said he follows the recommendations most, but not all of the time, and I came away from my interview with the sense that the Probation Department's report on Davis was fairly gentle.
Sedita wasn't about to criticize the sentence. That's not how he and most prosecutors operate.
More to the point, Sedita views his job, first and foremost, as putting violent criminals behind bars. People who murder, rape, etc. Politicians who steal from their campaign contributors don't rise to the same level. Nor should they.
He'll prosecute them, but he picks his spots when asking a judge to impose a stiffer sentence than what the probation folks recommend, and it almost always involves a violent crime. The DA wasn't about to depart from normal operating procedures on the Davis case.
OK, I understand. Compared to the horrors they routinely deal with, Davis pocketing $1,900 in campaign money and filing false campaign finance disclosure reports aren't that big of a deal to the judge and the DA.
As a result, Amodeo and Sedita, as well as the Probation Department, treated this sentencing as business as usual. But this was not a routine case.
Rather, we have a very visible violation of a public trust committed by a politician with a history of transgressions. Again, he's the first city politician to get caught with his hands in the cookie jar for at least a half-century.
Moreover, Davis and his lawyer weren't exactly fessing up in comments they made before Amodeo handed down his sentence.
Yeah, Davis said all the right things about accepting responsibility and apologizing to his family, friends and constituents.
At the same time, he and his lawyer insisted that Davis did not intentionally commit a crime.
Rather, they chalked it up to "stupidity," implying that this was somehow out of character.
What a load of you-know-what.
The crimes he pleaded guilty to were very much in character. As I reported in April:
... the Council member has a history of running afoul of state authorities and people to whom he owes money.
Since 2000, state officials have placed a lien against Davis to collect unpaid income taxes, suspended his driver’s license for lapsed auto insurance, and frozen his campaign account because of violations of election laws, according to public records and interviews. His license remains suspended and his campaign account frozen.
Davis has gone through personal bankruptcy and his Council wages have been garnisheed, according to public records. He and his wife also had their home built by a developer who does business before the Council, and their house is exempted from property taxes.
Creditors, including state tax officials, have filed five liens with the Erie County clerk and five lawsuits in Buffalo Small Claims Court in an effort to obtain payment of $22,456 in debts, public records show. Some $8,018 of that has yet to be paid, records show.
Davis, who failed to respond to repeated interview requests from The News, also has been under scrutiny for his involvement with One Sunset, a now-closed restaurant on Gates Circle that was launched with the help of city loans and grants.
I followed up with a story in May documenting that Davis doctored his resume to claim a college degree he didn't have.
Now maybe this isn''t how it's done in court, but it would have been nice if the judge or prosecutor had challenged Davis or his lawyer in the middle of their "dog ate my homework" speeches.
Rodney Personius, Davis' lawyer, spoke about how difficult the past year has been on Davis, how it has changed him. He essentially gave the "my client as suffered enough" speech.
I'm sure it has been hard for Davis. But he is hurting from self-inflicted wounds and, from where I sit, I don't see where it has humbled him.
Davis wouldn't resign from the Council until every major political ally except Mayor Byron Brown had called for him to step down, even as Sedita was insisting that Davis had no choice but to resign.
Then, Davis tried to make himself a player when Democratic committeemen convened to consider his successor, to the point where some in attendance said he was a disruptive presence.
To top it off, I'm told by one person active in Ellicott District politics that Davis recently told him and others that he is giving serious thought to running for his old Council seat in 2011.
Does this sound like a repentant person?
Then again, why should he be?
Davis has learned, as have 49 others before him, that when you commit a crime while on the public payroll, your punishment isn't going to get much worse than community service.
That explains in some small way why local government in this region is the pits. Corruption, while not endorsed, isn't really punished.
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