Disgraced ex-U.S. Rep. Bob Ney hails from the southern part of Ohio the Bible belt as it's called. He represented people who put a high priority on honesty, hard work and loyalty three values Ney himself seems to scoff at.
Ney is the first congressman convicted in a federal bribery investigation involving lawmakers, aides and Bush administration officials. He accepted golf and gambling trips, tickets to sporting events, free meals and campaign donations from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, in return for political favors. Eventually, after constant, pronounced denials, he pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy and making false statements. On Friday, he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. He'll also serve two years probation and pay a whopping $6,000 fine.
Ney blamed drinking for his behavior. Perhaps he had a drinking problem, but as U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle said, "It wasn't an isolated aberration. It had a consistency to it: It involved significant and serious abuses of the public's trust."
Ney said he takes "full responsibility for his actions." But that fails to explain why, after pleading guilty, Ney stayed in office until just days before the November election, only leaving when he absolutely had to: under threat of expulsion a rare distinction that also belongs to another disgraced Ohio Congressman, James Trafficant.
Yet, the six-term congressman will serve the equivalent of just more than "one term" in jail. He faced maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and $50,000 in fines. Too bad the prosecution asked for just 27 months.
And, perhaps worst of all, he still stands poised to collect about $29,000 a year through his congressional pension.
Is that justice? Hardly. The $6,000 fine was probably less than the golf trip Ney took to Scotland. And you really have to ask yourself would you spend 30 months in a cushy federal prison for a chance to make out like a bandit?
In the wake of scandals such as Enron and Abramoff, American society still is grappling with how to punish white collar crime. Crime still carries the dirty, gritty CSI connotation. White collar crime is boring and complex and can't be boiled down into an exciting, hour-long drama filled with sex, drugs and death. But its effects can be just as devastating simply ask the Texas Indian tribe that lost everything thanks to Abramoff's manipulations or the Enron workers who, unlike Ney, now have no pension or retirement funds to collect.
It is time the American public took notice of the destructive nature of corporate crime not only in terms of actual damages, but also as a betrayal of the public trust and the legal system must begin to place stiffer penalties on corporate criminals. However, when given the chance to send a message, the courts failed miserably, letting Ney off with what so many other white collar criminals have received a slap on the Rolex-encircled wrist.