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Western New Yorkers urge judge to ‘throw book’ at ex-congressman Collins

Dozens of New Yorkers in former Congressman Chris Collins’s upstate district urged a judge to jail him for a long time following his guilty plea to insider trading.

“Lock him up and throw away the key,” wrote Collins’s former constituent Bob Lonsberry. U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick released the letters publicly on Wednesday – a day after Collins’s lawyers pleaded for leniency and asked the judge not to send him to prison.

Much of the outrage from the residents focused on Collins’s decision to run in the 2018 election, after having been indicted. He won a race in which he proclaimed his innocence and accused the media of being fake news.

“The final insult to taxpayers is that by delaying his guilty plea for so long, it will require a special election to fill the seat at a cost of millions,” wrote James Renfrew, a constituent of the 27th District.

Collins – who was first elected to Congress in 2012 – was the first congressman to endorse Donald Trump for president. He pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to federal investigators. He’s scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 17 in Manhattan federal court.

Collins admitted that while standing on the South Lawn of the White House in June 2017, he tipped off his son Cameron to the negative results of a clinical trial for a drug being developed to treat a form of multiple sclerosis.

Collins was on the board of Innane Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotechology company, when he was notified by email of the results.

On Tuesday, Collins asked Broderick to sentence him to probation, citing his advanced age, charitable work and repentance.

But in almost 90 pages of letters sent to the judge, many of his former constituents urged a much harsher sentence – with some asking for the maximum punishment allowed.

Collins “should be held to an even higher standard than the average person,” Sharon Kelly of Erie County wrote. “We send the wrong message if we let our lawmakers break the law with impunity.”

Nathan McMurray, a Democratic town supervisor of Grand Island, New York, who narrowly lost the 2018 election to Collins, asked the judge to force him to repay his salary from the date of his indictment until his resignation and give up his pension.

Michael and Rosemary Scime, residents of the district that Collins served, told Broderick to “consider all the lies to his voters and the mistrust he has presented when you determine his fate.”

Prosecutors said by tipping his son to the results of the drug tests, Cameron, his fiancee, her parents and a friend were able to sell more than 1.78 million Innate shares, avoiding losses of about $768,000. Prosecutors agreed to recommend Collins serve a sentence of 46 months to 57 months as part of a plea agreement.

The former constituents were nearly unanimous in urging the judge to be tougher. In letters ranging from formal treatises with letterheads, to hand-written pleas, to one letter written in a Christmas card, many urged the judge to hand down a tough sentence.

“I have watched many of my former students be sent to jail for victimless crimes, really crimes that were committed for survival, and they have served far more time than Chris Collins seems to think he should serve,” wrote Lynn Gatto, associate professor at University of Rochester. “It is a fact that rich, white men serve less time than poor, black men. I urge you to sentence Chris Collins to the maximum sentence.”

Linda Stevens, a 68-year-old grandmother from Wheatfield, said she wanted to make the judge aware of “how we got screwed royally by him.”

“He should be sent a message that money and power cannot buy justice.”

The case is U.S. v. Collins, 18-cr-567, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).