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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Equal Time

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2008 at 8:51 AM

Anyone who read my council column, "Going Through the Motions," knows I'm above taking a dig at former Councilor Twanda Carlisle.

When Judge John Zottola gave her a one- to two-year sentence on public-corruption charges Feb. 4, it was a bit more than I thought she would get. But still, she had violated the public trust, even though she publicly blamed the media for blowing the whole stealing-public-money thing out of proportion.

But now I find myself almost sympathetic to Carlisle ... almost.

Incarceration of some period is necessary for what she has done. But then I compare her sentence to those of other public officials recently convicted of violating the public trust.

My expert analysis: It stinks.

Within 24 hours of Carlisle being sentenced, former state Rep. Frank LaGrotta and Mark Donley, a police chief from nearby Beaver County, were sentenced on corruption charges of their own. LaGrotta received six months of house arrest for paying close to $30,000 to his sister and her daughter to "work" at no-show state jobs. The sister (a kindergarten teacher in Ellwood City) and the niece were given probation. As for Conley, he pleaded guilty to taking bribes and was given probation.

Some people resent it when the race card is played, especially in defense of somebody who couldn't even defend herself in a courtroom. (Carlisle pled "no contest" to the charges.) But it's hard to ignore the fact that, of the three public officials sentenced recently, only one is black …. and that's the only one who will be doing hard time.

Other public officials in recent memory have also fared pretty well inside the legal system. Former Councilor Joe Cusick was convicted of extorting bribes and selling jobs while a member of Alcosan — he received six months in a halfway house and six months of house arrest. Former state Rep. Jeff Habay has faced a multitude of charges in recent years. On the first group of charges, that he had his state staff do campaign work, he spent a week in the county jail before being referred to an "alternative facility." He was recently given four to six months in the county jail, followed by 14 months house arrest for staging an anthrax threat at his office.

I don't want Twanda Carlisle to get special treatment. I think Zottola was on the money when he sentenced her to a maximum of two years in prison. Contrary to what Carlisle and some of her supporters allege, this wasn't a bookkeeping error.

But sentences ought to be even-handed … and these white, male public officials should have been given stiffer penalties too. LaGrotta is helping officials in other investigations … but he ought to do time for paying his family with our tax dollars for work they didn't do.

Twanda Carlisle stole from the city and from the people of her council district. She should and will pay for that. But for her to be going to prison while others get an anklet, their own bed and all the Judge Judy they can watch, is a crime in itself.

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