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2 former Mo. lawmakers sentenced in federal obstruction-of-justice case
ST. LOUIS -- Two former St. Louis-area lawmakers and a campaign treasurer were sentenced Tuesday in a federal obstruction of justice case tied to a failed 2004 congressional campaign.
Former state senator Jeff Smith, a St. Louis Democrat who was on his way to a promising political career, received the harsher sentence -- one year and one day in prison and a $50,000 fine -- despite his attorney's plea that Smith's stellar community service record made him appropriate for in-home detention.
Smith resigned from the state Senate on Aug. 25 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice for concealing his involvement in coordinating a political attack against Russ Carnahan in a 2004 Democratic congressional primary.
Letters from such supporters as Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, writing as an individual rather than in an official capacity, cited Smith's myriad efforts to help others, from founding and leading a charter school, to building bridges between races and mentoring disadvantaged youths.
"Your service has been significant, perhaps extraordinary," U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson told Smith, 35. "You touched a lot of people's lives. Perhaps people are wondering, 'Who is the real Jeff Smith?"'
Former state representative Steve Brown, a fellow St. Louis-area Democrat who helped Smith, a longtime friend, in the 2004 race, was sentenced to two years probation and fined $40,000. He also resigned in August after pleading guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice.
His attorney, Art Margulis, described Brown's crime as a "monumental lapse in judgment." Margulis added, from the moment the FBI agents arrived at the 42-year-old Brown's door in June 2009, he felt relief. "He knew it was the beginning of catharsis and was completely honest," he said.
Smith's campaign treasurer, Nick Adams, 29, received two years of probation and was fined $5,000 for conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Adams told the judge he had become "too enamored" of the two former lawmakers and their political careers. "I knew what I did was wrong," he said. "I felt it in my gut. But I tried to silence that voice because I feared my speaking up would end the promising careers of Jeff and Steve, who I believed would practice politics with integrity."
Federal authorities said Adams, Brown and Smith conspired to help Smith hide his role in coordinating the distribution of negative campaign materials by a supposedly independent group against Carnahan. Smith narrowly lost to Carnahan in a crowded 2004 primary to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt.
Smith and Adams admitted to impeding a 2004-06 Federal Election Commission inquiry into the scheme and a 2009 federal grand jury investigation. Brown admitted to obstructing one of the investigations.
Brown and Adams each faced as many as 20 months in federal prison, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith asked the court for leniency for their cooperation.
All three men apologized in court and said they were shamed by their actions.
"I knew it was wrong, but I wanted to win too badly," Smith said. But then, he added, it became "easier to lie than face scrutiny and embarrassment" for poor decisions.
Goldsmith said tape-recorded conversations give a "glimpse of the real Jeff Smith," as he read aloud partial but damning transcripts of Smith encouraging the others to lie to investigators.
Outside the courtroom, Smith told reporters that people should be judged, "not on the worst moment in their lives, but on the totality of their character.
"I'm entering a different chapter in my life," he said. "It's not the last one, and it's definitely not the defining one."