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Former state Rep. Seyfert sentenced to six months

Tuesday, August 08, 2000

By Kristen Hays, The Associated Press

ERIE -- A former state representative was sentenced yesterday to six months in prison after a judge said she maliciously violated the public trust by illegally obtaining a generator intended for firefighters and then plotting to cover up the crime.

U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin said Tracy Seyfert, 58, wrote him a letter saying there was "no malice" in her attempts to obtain the generator to warm exotic birds and eggs she incubates on her suburban Erie property. Seyfert called it "more than a foolish error on my part."

But McLaughlin called Seyfert's actions calculated, malicious, and worthy of a prison sentence. He also ordered her to pay a $5,000 fine.

The Republican lawmaker from Erie resigned her House seat in May when she pleaded guilty to stealing federal property and conspiring to influence a witness. Seyfert had spent four years in the House and was not seeking re-election this year.

Her attorney, Tim Lucas, said Seyfert had already been punished enough by resigning her House seat, and that she may lose her license to practice psychology because of the conviction. He said she might have received probation had she not been a public official.

"If someone just employed someplace got caught up in the same thing their sentence would have been much less," Lucas said.

Nell Lambert, a friend of Seyfert's for 25 years, said the former lawmaker should have gotten a break because she served her constituents well.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney John Trucilla said lawmakers should be held to a higher standard than anyone else. Seyfert declined to speak to reporters yesterday.

Seyfert ultimately ended up in more trouble for the attempted cover-up than for the theft itself. The conspiracy charge, a felony, was more serious than the theft, a misdemeanor.

As part of a plea arrangement, prosecutors dropped a charge that she attempted to have a witness change his testimony.

Trucilla said Seyfert illegally obtained a World War II-era surplus government generator and a 500-gallon oil tank, which together were worth less than $1,000.

Prosecutors said Seyfert asked Elk Creek Township Supervisor Harold "Frosty" Crane in April 1999 to help her get the equipment, which was supposed to be given to volunteer fire departments under a federal program to transfer excess federal property. It is almost always illegal for individuals to receive such surplus government equipment for personal use.

Seyfert had asked Crane to get the generator under the pretense that it was for the township, prosecutors said.

But when Seyfert and a friend, Joseph Wenzel, learned that federal investigators wanted Crane to help them investigate the purchase, they conspired to convince him to not cooperate, prosecutors said. That led prosecutors to charge Seyfert with one count of witness tampering and another count of conspiracy to tamper with a witness, both felonies.

At the time of the federal indictment in November, prosecutors said Seyfert could face up to 25 years in jail and a fine of up to $500,000.

The 42-year-old Wenzel, of Fairview, pleaded guilty Jan. 24 to conspiring with Seyfert to get Crane to lie to authorities.

Wenzel was sentenced in May to five years in a federal prison for conspiracy to tamper with a federal witness and six years and three months in prison for attempted witness tampering.

Seyfert has called Wenzel, who grew up with her, an unofficially adopted brother.

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