NEW YORK CITY — Former New York state comptroller Alan Hevesi was sentenced to one to four years in prison Friday for his leading role in an influence-peddling scandal at the state’s massive pension fund.
For Hevesi, who was handcuffed after the sentence was pronounced, the chapter concluded a twofold downfall that stands out as a symbol of scandal even in a state that’s rife with it.
“I have failed to live up to the trust of all New Yorkers and destroyed my reputation,” Hevesi, also a former state assemblyman and New York City comptroller, wrote to the court in a pre-sentencing submission. “I have also humiliated myself and made my family suffer.”
Hevesi, 71, was the highest-ranking state official entangled in a sweeping probe of “pay-to-play” practices at the $141 billion pension fund. He pleaded guilty in October to a misconduct charge.
“Alan Hevesi presided over a culture of corruption,” Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, now governor, said at the time.
Hevesi admitted 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 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.
A former Queens College professor with a doctorate in political science from Columbia University, Hevesi won an Assembly seat in 1971. During 22 years in the chamber, he gained a reputation as an impressive debater, wrote more than 100 laws and was known for his work on health care.
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.
Meanwhile, two of his sons followed him into the Legislature: former state Sen. Daniel Hevesi, who served from 1999 to 2002, and current Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, who arrived after a special election in 2005.
As Alan Hevesi ran for re-election in 2006, 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 his Republican opponent 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 Cuomo showed that officials and cronies got fees and favors from financiers seeking chunks of the retirement fund to manage. As comptroller, Hevesi was the fund’s 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.
The probe swept up a roster of players in politics and finance, drawing guilty pleas from figures including the former head of New York’s defunct Liberal Party and civil fines from people including former “car czar” Steven Rattner, the financier who helped lead the Obama administration’s bailout and restructuring of Chrysler and General Motors.
The only other 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 said Hevesi deserved the same sentence as Morris, the maximum for their crimes.
Hevesi’s lawyers asked for leniency. Under his plea deal, he could have gotten no jail time at all.
Plenty of powerful and promising figures in New York politics have seen their careers end in scandal.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, resigned in 2008 after he was named as a client of a high-priced prostitution ring; he was never charged with any crime. Former Republican state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was convicted of a federal charge of using his public position to enrich himself; he is appealing.
About a dozen other elected and appointed state officials have been convicted or accused of crimes in the past two years.