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Judge Cuts Montoya's Sentence by 6 Months


SACRAMENTO — Rejecting former Sen. Joseph B. Montoya's request to be freed from prison, a federal judge Thursday instead resentenced him to six years--a reduction of six months.

Two years ago, a federal appeals court threw out five of the seven political corruption counts on which Montoya was convicted of in 1990. Montoya, a Democrat, was caught on videotape taking a $3,000 check from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for his help with a bill.

The former lawmaker, led in and out of the courthouse in shackles, was hoping that federal District Judge Milton L. Schwartz would release him from the federal prison camp at Boron where he has spent three years.

But Schwartz agreed to only a modest reduction, pointing out that five extortion counts were thrown out because of faulty jury instructions--based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that followed the trial.

Schwartz defended his original sentence but acknowledged that federal sentencing guidelines have changed and that Montoya, while not showing remorse, had accepted "responsibility for his position."

In court, Montoya portrayed himself as a victim of an elaborate government sting operation and extensive pretrial publicity.

"As a consequence of having spent 38 months incarcerated, which is 1,159 days--which is a considerable amount of time--I want to say I'm sorry," Montoya told Schwartz. "I thought I was within the law. I was not."

Montoya described the pain of being separated from his family. "I have missed many birthdays, and two Christmases," he said.

His attorney, Jeremiah Hallisey, said that Montoya, 54, is broke after spending nearly $400,000 in legal fees, suffers from high blood pressure and is struggling to help his two children pay for college.

Former state Health and Welfare Secretary Mario Obledo rose to Montoya's defense, saying that the government had spent millions "to bring so-called justice to a Mexican-American legislator."

Assistant U.S. Atty. John K. Vincent argued that the "ugly inference that Mr. Montoya was targeted because he was a Mexican-American" was "absolutely false." He described Montoya as "one of the most grasping, crass legislators in soliciting bribes."

With credit for good time, Montoya could be released to a halfway house by spring, 1995.

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