Former Miramar City Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman was sentenced Thursday to four years and three months in federal prison, more punishment than he had hoped for but less than prosecutors sought.
In April, a jury found Salesman, 53, guilty of two counts each of bribery and extortion in an undercover FBI investigation. He was found not guilty of two counts of honest services fraud.
"I will never, ever be the same, it doesn't matter what I do. The shame that has been brought on me and on my family … ," Salesman said, breaking into a sob. "If I could give my life to reverse it, I would."
Salesman, dressed in khaki jail scrubs, blew a handcuffed kiss to his family and friends as he was led out of the courtroom after the nearly two-hour hearing. He is appealing the convictions.
The former politician was facing as much as eight to 10 years in federal prison if U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn followed the recommendation in the pre-sentencing report compiled by federal probation officers.
Salesman, a Democrat, was convicted of taking $3,340 in cash payments in exchange for steering city construction and renovation projects to undercover agents he thought were contractors.
FBI agents captured what even Salesman acknowledged Thursday in court was incriminating undercover videotape of him accepting cash payments in a restaurant parking lot and in a hotel room.
Prosecutors had sought a more severe sentence, arguing that Salesman's illegal conduct would have yielded contractors more than $120,000 in benefits, which under federal sentencing guidelines could have boosted his sentence by several years.
But Cohn rejected their argument, noting that the biggest project Salesman ever discussed with undercover agents posing as contractors never came to fruition and wasn't even placed on a city commission agenda. Instead, the judge found that the benefit, for building a city gazebo and installing a gym floor, was more than $10,000 but less than $30,000.
Salesman's attorneys, Jamie Benjamin and Daniel Aaronson, successfully argued that Salesman should not face a much greater sentence than the other politicians caught in the sting, former School Board member Beverly Gallagher and former County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, who both pleaded guilty.
Gallagher is serving three years and one month in prison for bribery after accepting $12,500 to help steer school district contract work to the agents. Eggelletion is serving 2 1/2 years for federal money-laundering conspiracy and a state bribery charge.
Gallagher's conduct was the topic of much debate in the courtroom as the defense hammered on the theme that, while Salesman's decision to go to trial meant he could not get the standard sentence reduction for accepting responsibility, he also should not be punished a lot more than Gallagher.
Gallagher pocketed about four times more money than Salesman, Benjamin told the judge.
Prosecutor Jeffrey Kaplan argued that Salesman's conduct was more distasteful and threatening.
"[Gallagher and Salesman] were both full of greed and after years in government, they had a sense of self-entitlement," Kaplan said. But Salesman thought he was dealing with arsonists, insurance fraudsters and money launderers, Kaplan said, while Gallagher thought she was being courted by businessmen.
All of the politicians' sentencings serve as a deterrent to others, Kaplan said. "I think the political landscape of Broward County is changing and the sentence in this case can have a substantial effect on that."Salesman said he too hoped his experience would be a deterrent to others who, like him, entered politics with good intentions. "Your honor, I have lost almost everything. I'm certainly going to lose my home. … Just the shame that I face -- 20 years from now, people will be pointing the finger at me."Cohn criticized the "pay to play" culture in Broward County that was highlighted in the trial, but said it was important that justice be equally applied.
"Mr. Salesman is every bit as guilty as Ms. Gallagher for using his elected public office to secure government contracts, but I don't find that Mr. Salesman is more guilty than Ms. Gallagher," Cohn said.
Cohn recommended that Salesman serve his sentence in the Southern District of Florida but did not specify which prison or camp. The defense hopes Salesman, who is being temporarily held at the Broward County main jail, will be sent to the minimum-security federal prison camp in southwest Miami-Dade County. The final decision on Salesman's security level and prison assignment will be made by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Salesman told the judge that he was "a broken man," but "I hope as I go forward I will learn from this ordeal and it will be somewhat beneficial to other people who want to serve their community."
In court documents, Salesman has said that he wiped out his private retirement funds of more than $120,000 since 2005 and accepted financial help from his father and siblings while he fought state and federal criminal charges in the past few years.
Paula McMahon can be reached at pmcmahon@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4533.