Former Norwalk Assemblyman Bruce E. Young, admitting his conviction "shows what happens if you don't follow the rules," was sentenced to 18 months in prison Monday in one of the few successful political corruption prosecutions ever mounted against a California legislator.
Young also was ordered to perform 1,500 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 fine for his conviction on five mail fraud counts stemming from concealment of outside earnings and laundering of campaign funds to other politicians.
"I really believe . . . this case is going to fan the fires for reform," Young told U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian as he awaited sentencing. "I believe it's going to be an example. People are going to say, you don't want to happen to you what happened to Bruce Young."
The once-powerful former legislator had contended throughout his trial that he had done "absolutely nothing illegal" in his failure to report outside earnings as a consultant and diversion of laundered campaign contributions from former fireworks manufacturer W. Patrick Moriarty to other state legislators.
"There's no question I was careless, I was neglectful, I didn't take time, and I hope that serves as a stern warning to my colleagues," Young said, electing at the last moment to address the judge when it became clear that he was facing a prison term. "I hope in some ways I can serve as a spokesman for what ought not to be done."
Federal prosecutors, who had sought a sentence of up to seven years for the highest-level conviction so far in the probe of Moriarty's wide-ranging political dealings, left the courtroom quickly without comment.
U.S. Atty. Robert Bonner, arguing that Young is guilty of "crimes that strike at the very heart of the political and governmental process in the state of California," had urged a stiffer sentence to "send the strongest kind of message to Sacramento that there is a significant price to pay for corrupt leadership."
Young, he said, had misused his position as a legislator to benefit his consulting clients and accepted unreported money from Moriarty at a time when he was actively promoting legislation to prohibit local bans on his "safe and sane" fireworks.
Moriarty, founder of Anaheim-based Pyrotronics Inc., funneled more than $260,000 in laundered campaign funds to a variety of state and local government officials between 1980 and 1983, much of it spent as part of the effort to fight local fireworks bans.
"What is painfully clear from the evidence, your honor, is that Mr. Young was Mr. Moriarty's man in Sacramento," Bonner said.
The 18-month sentence, of which Young could serve as little as a year with consideration for good behavior, leaves prosecutors with little leverage in bargaining for his cooperation in providing evidence against other potential targets of the probe.
But Tevrizian said he had to look at "the whole man" in imposing sentence.
"I have to look at Bruce Young basically as a debit and credit situation: What has he given to society, and what has he taken from society?" the judge said. "We've got a man who over his whole, entire life has been basically a law-abiding citizen. Do you forget about all the good years and just sentence him for the bad years?"
Tevrizian said he was also considering a psychiatrist's report submitted by defense lawyers which he said demonstrated that Young "has had some problems throughout his entire life."
The judge reserved his harshest comments for California's system of campaign finance, which he said "should have been looked at" long ago by the Legislature.
"Mr. Young isn't the cause, he's the effect," Tevrizian said, comparing Young to other legislators who have learned through experience that "money means power, and in order to be powerful, you've got to have money."
Young's lawyer, George Walker, noted that his client was convicted on only five of the 28 counts of mail fraud originally filed against him--acquitted, he said, on those charges alleging he accepted payment from Moriarty in exchange for promoting legislation.
"I think it's very clear that Mr. Young was used, and allowed himself to be used by others," Walker conceded, but he argued that it was Young's aggressive nature and his tendency to be "a risk taker" that brought him trouble.
"He should have known better, should have pulled back," Walker said. "Bruce Young had a style of a kind of excessiveness in the way he approached his job."
But Young would have faced no more than a fine, or possibly a misdemeanor conviction, had he been tried under state campaign finance laws, Walker said--an issue that he said he will raise on appeal.
Young will remain free on bond pending the appeal, although Tevrizian ordered him to surrender April 20 should the appeal not be filed. The judge said he will recommend incarceration at the federal prison at Lompoc, from which he would be eligible for parole in six months.