Former commissioner starts serving corruption sentence

By Chuck Weber email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - Former Palm Beach County commissioner Mary McCarty has started serving time on corruption charges. Thursday afternoon following her sentencing hearing, McCarty was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail, where she'll stay for a few days before being moved to a federal facility.

The day began with McCarty showing up for her sentencing hearing at the federal courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach. She had no comment on her way into court. As it turns out, these were among McCarty's last moments of freedom.

In the courtroom, McCarty tearfully read a statement to the judge. She apologized, said her actions have "humiliated and humbled" her, and added, "I never thought of myself as a criminal, but I am one."

In court filings, McCarty's lawyer asked for a sentence of about a year, saying her crimes were less than those of fellow commissioners Tony Masilotti and Warren Newell. Masilotti and Newell are serving sentences of five and three years, respectively. (Just last week a judge reduced Newell's sentence from five to three years, for his cooperation on the McCarty case.)

But prosecutors wanted the maximum sentence of five years, saying McCarty committed her acts repeatedly, over the course of 10 years, seriously breaching the public's trust.

Judge Donald Middlebrooks settled on a sentence of three and a half years and imposed a fine of $100 thousand. Middlebrooks also ordered McCarty into custody immediately.

In the courtroom following the hearing, McCarty shed tears as she hugged her mother. Marshals then led her away.

"I'm sure she's not happy about it," said McCarty's lawyer David Bogenschutz following the hearing. "But she was well aware this could happen." Bogenschutz acknowledged McCarty got a break on her sentence and was pleased. "It means a lot more when you're 54, than when you're 24," said Bogenschutz referring to his client's age.

Although it was not the maximum penalty he requested, prosecutor Steve Carlton said it was "sufficiently severe that it will get the attention of any public official thinking about committing a similar crime."

Just as McCarty was a lightning rod for controversy during her time as commissioner, her sentencing also elicited strong feelings. John Parsons wore to court a small homemade sign with the number "five," indicating his sentencing preference. Afterward Parsons stated, "I don't think there was justice here today. It seems like you get a higher sentence than that for stealing turtle eggs."

Even though McCarty received less than the maximum, it was still a painful day for McCarty's close friends and supporters. "It's a sad day for me and Palm Beach County," said family friend and Delray Beach lawyer J. Reeve Bright, fighting tears. "Lost a wonderful friend," he said.

In March, McCarty pleaded guilty to honest services fraud-- misusing her position as commissioner to benefit her and her husband Kevin. Prosecutors say she steered bond business to her husband, took votes that helped his company, and failed to disclose gifts from a hotel builder doing business with the County. Last week Kevin McCarty started serving his eight month sentence for concealing his wife's crimes.