SCRANTON – Former state senator Robert Mellow will spend 16 months in federal person and three years of supervised release on corruption charges, a U.S. district judge decided Friday.
Mellow, who will turn 70 this month, apologized for his actions before learning his sentence on a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud for using Senate staff to do political work for himself and his friends, as well as underreporting his income on this 2008 tax return.
I'm embarrassed … I'm ashamed, Mellow said, drying his eyes and adding he never thought he would be in a federal courtroom, let alone for the crimes he pleaded guilty to in May. I've let down (my family and friends).
Mellow, who embraced his attorneys after learning his sentence, must report to begin serving his sentence on Jan. 15 and pay $79,000 in restitution and a $40,000 fine. Mellow has already paid $31,738 in money owed for the tax return.
Mellow, of Peckville, said nothing while leaving the federal courthouse in Scranton surrounded by family members.
Mellow, the state's longest-serving senator, served in the Senate for 40 years until his retirement in 2010. While most of his district was in Lackawanna County, he also had represented Avoca, Duryea and Dupont in Luzerne County.
Mellow's attorney, Sal Cognetti, said he and fellow defense attorney Dan Brier were disappointed with the sentence after they argued probation would be a more appropriate sentence.
Cognetti said it is important to look at the broader picture and not assume his client's case is about corruption – there were no kickbacks or bribery involved – and that Mellow has led an exceptional life.
Cognetti also said Mellow had the support of 200 people who wrote letters to the judge, including local lawyers, former Diocese of Scranton Bishop James Timlin, and state Auditor General Jack Wagner.
U.S. District Judge Joel Slomsky said although Mellow should be commended for his work in the community both as a legislator and in his private life, it should not be ignored that Mellow committed a crime.
No one has the right to … misuse public money, Slomsky said. These are very serious crimes. They are not victimless crimes … the public is the victim.
Slomsky said it is undeniable that Mellow is a family man, fantastic father and public servant who contributed much over 40 years of service.
Slomsky cited Mellow's work in opening the Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, service in the U.S. Navy, personal money he contributed to local charities, and $2.3 billion he brought back to the area during his time as a legislator.
But, Slomsky said, Mellow was entrusted in serving the public and not breach that trust – and did.
Any federal offense is serious, but when it's committed by a public official, it raises that bar so much more, Slomsky said. (Mellow) should have known better.
U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Peter J. Smith said he and prosecutors Assistant U.S. Attorneys Francis Sempa and William Houser are satisfied with the sentence.
Senator Mellow violated the public trust by orchestrating the misuse of public funds and resources for political purposes and benefit, Smith said at a press conference after the sentencing.
At the same time, he took the position in public that he was following the law when in fact he was not. This was a terrible example and a sad betrayal of the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania who he represented and the people of the state, he said.
Much of Friday's five-hour sentencing hearing – that included two courtrooms full of spectators – centered around Mellow's attorneys' request for their client to receive a probationary sentence, based on his decades-long history of public service, age and health and family circumstances.
The attorneys argued all three criteria were extraordinary circumstances that called for a lesser sentence.
Mellow has given $157,000 of his own personal money away to charity; he suffers from a number of health problems, including a coronary problem; and his 39-year-old disabled adopted daughter may suffer more health problems if unnecessarily separated from her father.
Sempa argued Mellow's extraordinary contributions to the community and friends aren't extraordinary at all: It's what friends do for other friends and neighbors do for other neighbors.
Mellow's health, Sempa said, could easily be addressed, treated and cared for while incarcerated.
Sempa also argued that Mellow's ex-wife, Diane, is the primary caregiver for their disabled daughter. Though Mellow has had contact with her throughout the years, he has been away from her for extended periods of time due to the nature of his job as a senator.
Slomsky denied the defense attorneys' request to consider the three factors in offering a probationary or house arrest sentence.
The guidelines stand at 18 to 24 months, Slomsky said, adding he took into consideration Mellow has lost his pension as a legislator.
(Mellow) has done a lot of good, Slomsky said. But he has (also) done something bad that brings him to federal court today.
After the judge's ruling, Cognetti argued a house arrest sentence would also be appropriate, given the 200 letters all say the same thing about Mellow – that he is a hardworking, honest, compassionate and caring man.
This is the Bob Mellow you are sentencing, Cognetti said.
The defense attorney said Mellow has accepted responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty, and that some staffers who were used for campaign work were all political by nature.
Some, he said, worked 60 hours a week when compensated only for their regular work week, and most were self-described political junkies. Some worked on a golf tournament and campaign picnic after hours.
There's a scarlet letter on him that he'll wear until his feet are sticking up, Cognetti said. He's incarcerated already…in his mind…by his conviction.
WILL THE NAME REMAIN?
He might be headed to prison, his name disgraced by guilty pleas to corruption-related felonies, but will Robert J. Mellow's name continue to grace roadways, college buildings and parks throughout Lackawanna County?