Mario Biaggi, forced out of Congress by two corruption convictions, was sentenced to eight years in prison Friday for his role in the Wedtech bribery scandal.
Biaggi, once a highly decorated New York policeman, wept openly as Judge Constance Baker Motley read the sentence in U.S. District Court."I died a little bit every day during the trial," Biaggi, 71, said in a choked voice moments before the sentence was announced. "I think incarceration will be the equivalent of a death penalty," Biaggi said.
Biaggi, who said he was penniless, also was ordered to pay $242,000 in fines. He could have been sentenced to up to 146 years in prison and fined $7.4 million for the Wedtech conviction.
The prison term will be served concurrently with a 21/2-year term he received in Brooklyn federal court for accepting an illegal gratuity.
Biaggi, who served 10 terms in Congress, pleaded with the judge to show mercy for his son, Richard, one of five others convicted and facing sentencing Friday in the case.
Former Bronx borough President Stanley Simon was sentenced to five years in prison and $70,000 in fines.
Biaggi, whose conspicuous limp traces back to his police exploits, left office Aug. 5 to press appeals of both convictions.
Despite his convictions, the popular Bronx Democrat received 36,121 votes - 29 percent of the 19th Congressional District total - in the November general election.
Biaggi was convicted of receiving $1.8 million in stock in return for his help in getting Wedtech government defense contracts. Altogether he was convicted of 15 federal counts, including racketeering, extortion and taking bribes.
Biaggi struggled to the courtroom lectern to proclaim his innocence and beg for the judge's mercy.
"All my life I served in public service," said Biaggi, who is still New York's most highly decorated former police officer. "I loved to be loved (by the public). I loved to love them. The trial, what it did to my family - `Is grandpa going to jail?' - I would have done anything to eliminate that. I'm fearful.
"I'm innocent. Within 24 hours (of the second conviction) I resigned," he said with a heaving sigh, his hands outstretched. "With that resignation, your honor, my life as I knew it was over.
Biaggi sat slumped in his chair, showing little emotion and staring straight at the judge's bench as the sentence was read.
A seventh defendant was acquitted, and Biaggi's law partner, Bernard Ehrlich, is to be sentenced at a later date.
The six were convicted for transforming Wedtech, once a small South Bronx machine shop, into a million-dollar defense contractor by using stock in the company to bribe influential officials.
Biaggi, along with former Bronx Democratic Leader Stanley Simon, former Small Business Administration regional director Peter Neglia, Wedtech co-founder John Mariotta, and Ehrlich all were found guilty, among other charges, of racketeering, which alone calls for a minimum 20-year sentence.
Biaggi's son was found innocent of racketeering but convicted of bribe-taking and other charges.
Biaggi and Ehrlich were convicted of accepting 225,000 shares of stock in Wedtech in return for using their influence to help Wedtech get government contracts. Some of the stock was concealed by Richard Biaggi.
Biaggi maintained that Wedtech actually targeted higher-ranking officials in its bid to obtain government contracts and had no reason to bribe a lowly congressman such as himself.