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Former state Senate leader Mellow gets 16 months in prison for conspiracy

Former state Senate Democratic Robert J. Mellow -- shown here leaving the William J. Nealon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse Wednesday, May 9, 2012 in Scranton -- cried and pleaded for a shorter sentence, but a federal judge on Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 gave him 16 months in prison for using state tax dollars for campaigns. AP file photo

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Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, 5:50 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG — Former Senate Democratic leader Bob Mellow cried and pleaded for a shorter sentence, but a federal judge on Friday gave him 16 months in prison for using state tax dollars for campaigns.

U.S. District Judge Joel Slomsky ordered Mellow to pay nearly $80,000 in restitution to the state Senate and a $40,000 fine to the federal government.

Mellow paid $31,000 in restitution for filing a false tax return. He pleaded guilty in May to a federal conspiracy charge.

“I'm embarrassed, and I'm ashamed,” Mellow said. “I'm very, very sorry.”

Mellow, 69, became the eighth Pennsylvania legislative leader to go to prison since 2009 for abusing public resources to get himself and others re-elected.

He was an icon in Northeastern Pennsylvania politics, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

“Today is a very sad day for the Senate and for Pennsylvania,” said Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, who succeeded Mellow.

Mellow will report to the federal Bureau of Prisons on Jan. 15.

Leaders initiated changes to ensure all senators and staff clearly understand Senate rules and prohibitions regarding political activity, Costa said. The Senate adopted Ethical Conduct Rules for two sessions that “clearly distinguish political activity and provide guidelines for senators and staff to follow,” he said.

The point is to ensure a “bright line” separates political activity from caucus legislative actions involving senators and staff, Costa said.

Superior Court established that line in its 2007 decision upholding the conviction of former Rep. Jeffrey Habay, a Shaler Republican, for forcing employees to do campaign work, said Gov. Tom Corbett, the former attorney general.

Court documents said Mellow's political activity on taxpayers' dime continued after the Habay ruling.

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporterfor Trib Total Media. He can be reachedat 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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