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Amati ready to taste freedom

| Friday, Oct. 17, 2003

PITTSBURGH -- Standing before a federal judge, suspended District Justice Ron Amati made a soft plea for his release from prison.

"Judge, I've spent 28 months in the system," Amati said. "I want to go home."

Amati will get that opportunity at 5 p.m. today when he will be released from a federal prison.

During a resentencing hearing Thursday before U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond in Pittsburgh, Amati's sentence was reduced to 32 months. With credit for time served without incident, Amati was ordered released this afternoon.

On Feb. 5, 2001, Amati was convicted in U.S. District Court on one count each of criminal conspiracy to operate an illegal gambling business, operating an illegal gambling business and conspiring to obstruct state or local law enforcement.

Late last month, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Amati's 42-month sentence was too harsh, suggesting 21 to 27 months. A new sentencing hearing was ordered held in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The ruling also left the door open for the lower court to revisit whether Amati perjured himself when he took the stand Jan. 26 and 29 during the trial. The trial ran from Jan. 4 to Feb. 5, 2001.

Diamond, in concluding Thursday that Amati had committed perjury during the trial, said the sentencing guidelines should be 22 to 33 months.

With a 32-month sentence, Amati would be eligible for release today. He would have been eligible for release Nov. 1 if the judge had ordered a new sentence of 33 months.

"Actually, the range we have is two weeks," Diamond said with a smile.

Efram Grail, representing Amati, made a plea for release now rather than in two weeks. He said Amati desired to be home for his son's birthday later this month.

"He is a different man than the one who stood before this court in May 2001 (when he was originally sentenced)," Grail said. "He has been impacted by the prison system. It has had its intended impact."

Amati recently wrote to Diamond, expressing remorse.

"I've done a lot of charitable and positive things in prison," Amati said, adding that he has counseled other inmates, avoided any malfeasance, took craft classes and played in a prison softball league.

While Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Wilson said he had serious disagreements with the Third Circuit Court opinion, he had "no problems" with the 32-month sentence.

"I'm satisfied the system has nothing else to gain by incarcerating Mr. Amati any longer," Diamond said. "There's nothing society can gain by two more weeks."

Upon his release, Amati will be under supervised release for two years. He must report to a probation officer within 72 hours of his release. He cannot possess a firearm or possess or use any controlled substance.

He was ordered to pay the $6,500 balance of his $7,500 fine within a year.

Although he will be released from prison, Amati's future remains in doubt. As a convicted felony, he likely won't be permitted by law to serve the six-year district justice term he was elected to in 1999. He remains on suspension without pay status.

On April 23, 1999, the state Supreme Court ordered Amati "relieved of all judicial and administrative responsibilities until further order of this court." Amati, however, continued to receive his salary.

In Washington County, district justices received salaries of $55,027 in 1999 and $56,348 in 2000. The salary rose to $57,475 in 2001.

He was suspended without pay shortly after a U.S. District Court jury found him guilty on all charges.

Despite his suspension in late April 1999, Amati was nominated for re-election on the Democratic ticket in May 1999. Less than a month after he was indicted on federal gambling charges, Amati was overwhelmingly re-elected to a new, six-year term.

Although he was sworn in at the end of 1999, Amati has never taken the bench.

As Amati was being led from the courtroom, Amati was asked by The Valley Independent if he was permitted to comment. A U.S. marshal escorting Amati sternly replied "no."

Amati smiled and said, "My attorney will talk to you."

Grail said Amati was "looking forward to ending his prison term."

"Mr. Amati is grateful for the court's actions," Grail said.

Grail said he and Amati have discussed his future plans, but his future employment was not discussed. Up until the higher court's ruling late last month, Amati was looking at a prison term that would not end until the summer of 2004.

"Besides the obvious, spending time with his family and friends, he said he wants a good cup of cappuccino and to sit down outside and watch the world for a few minutes," Grail said.

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