Former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of mail fraud and was immediately sentenced to 17 months in prison and fined $100,000.
The gruff, former head of the Ways and Means Committee said the word "guilty" twice when U.S. District Court Judge Norma Holloway Johnson asked his pleas to the charges.
"You have brought a measure of disgrace" on Congress, Johnson lectured Rostenkowski before pronouncing his sentence. "You shamelessly abused your position. When I think of your case . . . the one word or the one phrase that comes to my mind is betrayal of trust." A product of the Chicago Democratic machine, Rostenkowski ran his panel of tax law writers with an iron hand. Two years ago, he had promised to "fight these false charges." After his sentencing Thursday, Rostenkowski, 68, read from a written statement that was defiant in tone. "I would like to emphasize that I have pled guilty to the least serious charges set forth in this indictment," he said. He believes, he said, that he was "singled out, to be held up by law enforcement as an example. I simply have to accept that and move forward with my life." But Rostenkowski admitted in his plea agreement that he had converted office funds to his own use for gifts such as Lenox china and armchairs. He admitted hiring people on the congressional payroll who did little or no official work - but took care of his lawn, took photographs at political events and family weddings, helped his family's business and supervised the renovation of his house. Specifically, Rostenkowski admitted sending House payroll checks through the mail to his district office on Aug. 28, 1990, to pay employees who - the ex-lawmaker acknowledged - performed "personal or political service." He also admitted sending a check to Lenox china on Jan. 14, 1992, to pay for gifts for friends and political cronies. As the agreement was read in court, Rostenkowski said little. Before the start of the hearing, Rostenkowski sat at the defense table reading the plea agreement as if he were reading a bill, his hand resting on his cheek. …