Judge Minces No Words Sentencing Rostenkowski

Article excerpt

After defrauding the government of $636,600, the once-powerful congressman has his day in court.

The federal investigation of former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat, grew out of the House post-office scandal. It was in March of 1992 that Paul Rodriguez of the Washington Times, now managing editor of Insight, first reported the use of post-office boxes as collection points for campaign donations to congressmen, including Rostenkowski. The story evolved into one of the biggest political scandals in the history of the House of Representatives.

As an 18-term congressman and the longtime chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, Rostenkowski was a giant on Capitol Hill. But even his wide-ranging influence failed to protect him from a kickback and payroll-scam inquiry during an election year. Last month, after a four-year investigation, Rostenkowski accepted a plea bargain and admitted the heart of the prosecutors' case against him -- that he had defrauded Congress of $636,600. In return, he pleaded guilty to two of the dozen counts with which he was charged.

"I would like to emphasize that I have plead guilty to the least-serious charges set forth in the indictment," he told reporters outside the federal courthouse in Washington. "Having plead guilty, I do not believe that I am any different than the vast majority of the members of Congress," Rostenkowski said of charges that he misused congressional funds to pay employees for personal and political services unrelated to official duties.

Before his unrepentant remarks to journalists, Rostenkowski had appeared before U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson to confirm his formal pleadings. "Guilty, your honor," he said to the first charge -- that he illegally used the mail to send fraudulent payroll checks from Washington to his district office in Chicago. "Guilty," he said to the second charge -- that he used the mail to send a congressional payment to Lenox China of Pomona, NJ., for sets of dinnerware he gave to family members and political supporters.

Johnson imposed the recommended sentence -- 17 months in prison and a $100,000 fine -- negotiated between Dan K. Webb, Rostenkowski's attorney, and U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. But before doing so, the judge offered the Chicago politician an opportunity to express remorse or even regret. Here, from the trial transcript, is what happened next.

The Court: Mr. Rostenkowski, I'll be very happy to hear from you, sir.

Rostenkowski: Well, I'm.... Your honor, my counsel has adequately stated my position. I ... I really don't have anything else to say, your honor.

The Court: Very well, Mr. Rostenkowski. …

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