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Former Illinois Prison Director Convicted and Fined

Former Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections Donald Snyder was sentenced, on July 30, 2008, to two years in federal prison for accepting $50,000 in bribes from lobbyists.

Snyder tried to minimize the damage by admitting his guilt and turning state’s witness. A remorseful Snyder admitted taking $30,000 from lobbyist Larry Sims. He also implicated former Cook County undersheriff John Robinson and prisoner advocate Michael J. Mahoney in the remaining $20,000 pay off. Judge Zagel was not impressed.

“I didn’t believe much of your testimony and I didn’t believe much of your testimony because of your claimed lack of memory,” said Zagel.

Neither did Zagel hide his distaste as he made it clear that Snyder had set a terrible example as a public servant and had impugned the stature of government officials through his actions.

“You hear over and over again that all government officials are corrupt,” the judge said. “You should have stayed in Pittsfield,” said Zagel as he ignored numerous personal affidavits from friends and neighbors, in upstate Pittsfield, vouching for Snyder’s character.

Snyder was defended by Springfield attorney Michael Metnick who tried to get his client a 16-month sentence. Metnick argued that in spite of his client’s ethical lapse in accepting the bribe he had done a good job in managing the state’s prison system.

Federal prosecutor Joel Levin countered that Snyder’s tenure was filled with “waste, mismanagement, cronyism and abuse of office” and filled with “lavish wining and dining [Snyder] received at the expense of IDOC vendors.”

Still, Levin put in a good word for Snyder and urged the court to take Snyder’s cooperation into consideration. Snyder aided the investigation by wearing a wire and recording conversations of his illegal dealings. He also testified at trial against one of the lobbyists in exchange for leniency.

Sims and Robinson pleaded guilty to the charges against them. But at a bench trial Mahoney insisted he had done nothing illegal. As executive director of the John Howard Association, Mahoney had used funds to curry Snyder’s favor. While admitting the questionable ethics of his actions, Mahoney insisted that he had technically done nothing illegal.

Judge James B. Zagel called Mahoney’s defense “inherently unattractive” but essentially correct and acquitted him of all charges.

Levin requested that Snyder receive a 23 to 30 month sentence. In spite of his obvious disdain for the former prison chief, Judge Zagel sentenced Snyder to two years in federal prison, 300 hours of community service and fined him $50,000.

A humiliated Snyder exited the courtroom with the words, “what I did was absolutely wrong.” He then turned to his daughters and apologized saying, “I’m sorry girls.” Snyder also expressed a hope that his actions would not unfavorably affect his girls’ prospects for future employment.

Snyder served as director of the Illinois DOC from 1999 to 2003.

Sources: Associated Press, Chicago Tribune

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