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Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Judge calls ex-treasurer 'paradox,' hands down 30-month sentence
Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief
Aug 28, 2018 7:17 PM
McCord in 2015, soon after pleading guilty to attempted extortion. (Photo by AP)
(Harrisburg) -- Former state Treasurer Rob McCord has been sentenced to 2 ½ years in federal prison for using his office in an attempt to extort money for a foundering gubernatorial bid.
McCord's sentencing hearing Tuesday morning featured defense and prosecuting lawyers, character witnesses, a federal judge, and McCord himself trying to make sense of the motivations that led the high-profile Democrat and onetime venture capitalist to his downfall.
Before announcing McCord's 30-month sentence and $5,200 fine, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III told him he's a "paradox."
When first confronted by federal investigators in 2014, McCord cooperated in exchange for a potential reduced sentence, wearing a wire and helping lead the FBI to charge businessman and GOP donor Richard Ireland with attempted bribery.
But on the stand, he proved an unpredictable witness, and that was a significant factor in the case being thrown out mid-trial.
Jones--who was also the presiding judge in the Ireland trial--said he thinks McCord's "leading notion" "was to protect [his] reputation and [his] legacy."
He appeared to struggle to reconcile the man who racked up around 60 positive character witnesses with the one who told a law firm, "At the very least, I'm still gonna be the treasurer," when they didn't contribute the money he wanted.
"There is so much good in you," Jones told the defendant. "But in the end, you gamed a system that allowed you to leverage campaign contributions. You know that." He said McCord was corrupted by "avarice" and his obsession with becoming governor.
McCord's 30-month sentence is shorter than the 37 to 46 months prosecutors recommended--and an even steeper reduction from the 57 to 71 months suggested under federal guidelines.
His lawyer, Robert Welsh, said they'd hoped for even less.
"Of course we wish it were better," he told reporters after Jones announced his decision. "But you know, the truth is the judge gets to make the call, and we got every opportunity--every opportunity, I got extensions, I got continuances, I was able to do everything I can."
McCord didn't speak to the media, but in his comments in the courtroom he apologized to "the people of Pennsylvania, to the court, to my great colleagues at Treasury."
"I broke the law," he said, choking up. And in response to the judge and Federal prosecutor Michael Consiglio's comments that he hadn't been candid on the witness stand, he briefly raised his voice.
"I guess I'm a flawed man," he said. "I'm a flawed witness."
The corruption probe that brought McCord down also ensnared former Treasurer Barbara Hafer and John Estey, who was Chief of Staff for Governor Ed Rendell.
Jones noted, he believes it points to a need for broad campaign finance reform, saying something is "grievously wrong" with a system that let McCord do what he did.
There are no limits on the size or number of contributions to political campaigns in Pennsylvania.
Jones said, ultimately, he thinks McCord will "land on [his] feet."
The onetime millionaire's marriage dissolved in the wake of his ignominious exit from the Treasury, and he has been mostly unemployed since. His older brother Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, a philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said during his character testimony that McCord is currently living with him.
The former treasurer is now, according to his lawyer, pursuing a new career path: a master's degree in marriage counseling and family therapy.