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Gigliotti gets stiff sentence

Legislator to serve 46 months; Judge cites 'perversion of office'

Thursday, June 22, 2000

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Defense lawyer William Manifesto tried hard yesterday to persuade a judge to show mercy in sentencing disgraced former state Rep. Frank Gigliotti.

Public corruption hot line opens

Federal, state and local authorities used yesterday's sentencing of former state Rep. Frank Gigliotti in U.S. District Court to announce a new hot line for reporting public corruption.

John E. Shea, special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh office of the FBI, encouraged anyone with information about corruption by public officials to call 412-456-9494.

The number had received seven or eight calls by yesterday afternoon.

The hot line will be staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. During off-hours, a recording will answer. All calls will be kept confidential.

Shea, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and other officials said the number should help streamline the process of reporting corruption.


But it was obvious from the start that the judge would have none of it.

"I don't know what arguments you have left," U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond snapped after listening to an hour's worth of legal wrangling, "but the ones you've used so far haven't done the job."

Then Diamond, who described Gigliotti's pattern of extorting bribes from contractors as a "perversion of his office," pronounced sentence: 46 months in federal prison.

As a general matter, federal sentences must be served in their entirety.

The prison term was harsher than the 30- to 37-month range set forth in federal sentencing guidelines and discussed as part of Gigliotti agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to extorting bribes from contractors over a period of three years.

Although Diamond considered the plea bargain recommendation, he was not bound by its terms.

He made it clear in court and in a 16-page "tentative findings" report he faxed to Manifesto on Monday that he would depart from the sentencing range, in part because of Gigliotti's "systematic and pervasive" corruption as a state legislator and as a board member of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority.

"Gigliotti treated his political power and influence as a commodity to be sold for personal profit, which he did without restraint or regret," the judge said.

Ordinarily, Gigliotti would have been taken into custody by U.S. marshals following the sentencing. But Diamond allowed him to report to prison -- probably at Morgantown, W.Va. -- on his own by July 21 because his adult daughter is about to undergo surgery for cancer.

The delay also will give Gigliotti's probation officer time to collect information about his lung disorder and other medical problems so he can be treated in prison.

Diamond also ordered that Gigliotti pay a $6,000 fine and not participate in any political activity during his three years of supervised release after the prison term.

Gigliotti, 57, remained silent throughout the hearing. Just before sentencing, Diamond asked him if he had anything to say. He mumbled only, "Nothing, your honor." Afterward, he had no comment as he was escorted to the marshals' office for processing.

In determining the sentence, Diamond considered whether Gigliotti's conduct could "cause a loss of public confidence in government." He concluded that it did.

Gigliotti's behavior obviously didn't have that effect on roughly 40 or so friends, fellow legislators, Democratic party officers and constituents from his Brookline district and elsewhere who wrote letters to the judge on his behalf.

Many of them described Gigliotti as rough-hewn but honest and asked Diamond for leniency.

"I know what he is accused of [according to the papers] was wrong and I won't justify that," began one typical letter, written by Mary Ann Bruno of Wolford Street. "I'm only asking that you take into consideration all of the good that he has done for all the people in the community including children ... He has helped get funds for our library and our schools; I don't think we could ask for more than that."

Although Gigliotti had asked his former colleagues in the Legislature to write to the judge and say nice things about him, only two did.

Rep. W. Curtis Thomas of Philadelphia said Gigliotti was a man of "honesty and integrity" and Rep. Edward P. Wojnaroski Sr. of Johnstown wrote that Gigliotti, except for his "mistakes," has a "fine character." Two former state legislators, Christopher K. McNally of Munhall and Greg Fajt of Mt. Lebanon, also wrote supportive letters.

A minority of others who contacted the judge were less charitable.

"Gigliotti's Harrisburg and Alcosan deals have cheated all of us," wrote James A. Kehl of Brownsville Road, a professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh. "We shouldn't be cheated a second time with a laughable sentence."

Manifesto argued that his client's 12-year service in the Legislature should have been considered as a whole and suggested that the extortion for which he was prosecuted as a legislator was a one-time occurrence.

He also said Gigliotti deserved leniency because he extorted bribes or attempted to extort bribes from only four contractors out of the hundreds with which Alcosan did business.

Diamond scoffed, saying the number of extortion attempts hardly mattered.

"Jeffrey Dahmer committed many murders, but a murder is a murder," he said. "We don't do this on a curve."

Diamond also pointed to the prosecution's sentencing memorandum, released last week, which included transcripts of conversations that painted Gigliotti as a cynical politician willing to use his office to enrich himself at the expense of the public.

At one point, when government informant Ernest Smalis suggested that government is supposed to "give back" to the people, Gigliotti was heard to say, "[Expletive] the people."

Diamond said the remark -- he sanitized it to "To dickens with the people" -- was emblematic of Gigliotti's attitude toward his office.

Last December, a federal grand jury returned a 27-count indictment accusing him of soliciting and accepting bribes from Smalis and two other contractors.

In April, Gigliotti admitted to extorting the men.

Beginning in 1998, he took cash and a paid trip to Disney World from Smalis, a Shadyside bridge painter, in exchange for wielding his influence with state agencies and Alcosan board members.

He was caught on tape soliciting bribes from Smalis, who was trying to regain his certification to do work for the state.

Smalis, who cooperated in the federal probe, has pleaded guilty to federal tax and fraud charges and to state charges for environmental violations. He is in prison awaiting sentencing.

In 1998 and 1999, Gigliotti took $17,100 in bribes from Alcosan contractor Patrick Copple of PF Environmental in exchange for his influence in awarding the company a sludge recycling contract.

Once the contract was secured, Gigliotti demanded that he be paid 10 percent of the profits and, later, $2,000 a month.

Gigliotti also extorted bribes from Frank Schneider, president of Schneider Engineering Technologies, which did engineering work for Alcosan.

Gigliotti demanded that Schneider pay for tickets and plane fare for Gigliotti to vacation at Disney World from 1996 to 1998.

In exchange, Gigliotti led Schneider to believe that he could influence the Alcosan board and use that influence against Schneider if he didn't pay.

In 1999, Gigliotti met with Frank Mascaro, owner of Mascaro Inc., and tried to sell him confidential Alcosan bid information for $1,000.

Gigliotti had provided the same bid package to Smalis the day before. Mascaro, however, refused to pay.

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