Jeff Smith gets 1 year in prison, $50,000 fine
Former state Sen. Jeff Smith was sentenced on Tuesday in St. Louis federal court to just over a year in prison, on federal charges that he lied to authorities about illegal activities in his 2004 run for Congress.
The St. Louis Democrat and former Washington University instructor received 12 months and one day in prison for each of two counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice. The sentences will run concurrently. He was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine.
Law school graduate Steve Brown, a former Democratic state representative from Clayton, was sentenced to two years of probation on one conspiracy count and fined $40,000. University graduate Nick Adams, who was Smith’s campaign treasurer, was sentenced to two years of probation for each of two conspiracy counts and fined $5,000. His sentences are also concurrent.
Brown and Adams avoided receiving prison time largely because they assisted an FBI investigation in 2009.
The three pleaded guilty in the same courthouse on Aug. 25, following weeks of speculation in the Missouri political system about the futures of Smith and Brown, who also resigned their legislative seats that day.
Judge Carol Jackson told all three defendants that their crimes were “very serious.” The more she learned about the defendants and the case, the less she was able to figure out “how a bunch of smart guys like you could have done something so boneheaded,” she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith told reporters afterward that all of the sentences were appropriate. He also hoped that the case would send a message to other politicians.
“We’re not going to tolerate this kind of corruption,” Goldsmith said. “The people deserve better—the people in this city, the people in this state, the people in this country.”
In court, Smith acknowledged lying about his role in producing illegal campaign literature in his 2004 bid: “With the postcards I left a piece of my honor in that campaign.” All three defendants apologized, with Smith saying, “I should have owned up to my mistakes.”
In a brief statement afterward, Smith said, “This has been a difficult chapter in my life, but it will not be the last one and it will definitely not be the defining one.”
The sentences were lighter than those suggested in the plea agreement guidelines, which recommended 15-21 months for each count. The plea agreement suggested prison terms below the guidelines for Brown and Adams because the two helped the FBI’s investigation.
Jackson, who was responsible for the sentencing, said she would have been tempted to send Brown to prison, were it not for the U.S. attorney’s office’s mention of Brown’s cooperation.
“This was a very stupid thing for you to do,” she told Brown, adding that he had been a lawyer who was now himself being prosecuted. Brown lost his law license after pleading guilty.
Goldsmith told Jackson during Brown’s sentencing that he has “never been involved in a case where I’ve had this kind of cooperation.”
Smith’s lawyers had sought home confinement and community service for Smith as an alternative to prison time, citing his lifelong commitment to service. Richard Greenberg, one of Smith’s lawyers, pointed out the St. Louis charter schools that Smith founded in 2002, his annual three-on-three basketball tournament, and the students he has tutored.
But Goldsmith argued that home confinement would not have been enough of a punishment, because of Smith’s pattern of lying to investigators.
“Citizens have a right to his honest services and his integrity, and he abused them of that right,” Goldsmith told reporters.
Jackson agreed but said it was “not inappropriate” to take Smith’s community service into account as grounds for sentencing him below the guidelines. She also said she had “no doubt” that Smith’s remorse was real, and she noted that more than 100 people, including Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, had sent her letters urging her to be lenient in sentencing Smith.
Adams received a light sentence in part due to his cooperation with investigators. Goldsmith said he supported a light sentence because he saw “the light go off” in Adams’ head after Adams initially refused to cooperate. But Goldsmith also said he did not see a light go off in Smith’s head.
The charges against the three men stemmed from an FBI investigation over the summer that revisited a 2004 inquiry by the Federal Election Commission into Smith’s congressional run. The FBI found that all three men had lied by hiding their involvement in the creation of anonymous postcards that attacked Smith’s main Democratic primary opponent, now U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.
Carnahan had filed a complaint with the FEC in July 2004 alleging Smith violated federal law by helping make campaign materials—the postcards, in this case—without disclosing that he was involved. Smith submitted an affidavit denying the claims. The FEC closed its investigation in 2007, clearing Smith and his campaign. Carnahan defeated Smith in the 2004 primary by a 23 percent to 21 percent vote, and Smith was elected to the Missouri Senate in 2006.
New evidence emerged in 2009 that prompted the FBI to revisit the matter. FBI wiretaps revealed that the three men had known all along about the postcards and that they had helped an unnamed Democratic operative produce them. The FBI also found that the three continued lying in 2009 in an effort to cover up the crimes. Goldsmith said the help Brown and Adams eventually provided was critical in building a case.
Art Margulis, Brown’s lawyer, said he appreciated that Jackson took Brown’s cooperation into account in determining his sentence.
“Clearly this is no time for celebration,” Margulis said. “There’s been a lot lost here—more than one career damaged—and we’re grateful for the judge’s consideration.”