TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford was sentenced Friday to 15 years in federal prison for taking clothes, Rolex watches, loan payments and cash worth more than $240,000 as bribes in return for lucrative bond work.
U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler imposed the sentence on Langford, 63, who told the court, “I am sorry all this has occurred.”
The sentence was about nine years shorter than the minimum term sought by prosecutors. Asked outside court whether he was pleased, Langford sneered at a reporter.
“Are you?” said Langford, who claims he did nothing wrong.
Langford and his wife have blamed his conviction on vindictive prosecutors, inattentive jurors and racism. Langford is black; most of the jurors were white.
Defense lawyers already are working on an appeal.
Langford, a dapper political figure, was convicted in October of taking cash, loans and gifts — including expensive clothes and jewelry — while he was president of the Jefferson County Commission. In exchange, prosecutors said, he steered county bond work to an investment banker who paid the bribes.
“He sold Jefferson County out,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney George Martin.
He said Langford committed a “gross abuse of trust” with every Italian suit, Rolex watch and cash payment he received. Initially valued at $235,000, authorities said a final tally of the bribes came to $241,843 — which Langford was ordered to repay, along with about $119,985 in back taxes. Langford must report to federal custody by April 5.
The defense claimed the cash and other items were personal gifts and loans from friends and did not influence Langford’s decision on the bond work.
But investment banker Bill Blount pleaded guilty to making the payments, and lobbyist Al LaPierre admitted being the middleman. Blount, the former state Democratic Party chairman, last week was sentenced to more than four years in prison. LaPierre, the former executive director of the state Democratic Party, got four years. Blount also was ordered to pay $1 million to the government, and LaPierre $470,000.
Prosecutors had argued Langford showed no remorse and should spend up to 30 years in prison.
The defense said Langford had been ridiculed by news media and, based on another Jefferson County official’s sentence for corruption, should spend no more than five years in prison.
Defense attorney Michael Rasmussen also argued Friday that the bond deals were in the best interest of the county at the time.
“Unfortunately, since that time things went sour, but they didn’t go sour because of Mr. Langford,” he said.
Defense attorneys previously asked the judge to ignore new allegations that Langford won excessive jackpots at a longtime supporter’s casino — at least 555 over a recent three-year period ranging from slightly more than $1,000 to more than $14,000. Court filings said his tax returns showed he won $1.5 million during that time from gambling at various casinos, and also claimed to have lost $1.5 million.
Nonetheless, Rasmussen — Langford’s lawyer — was the only one who tried to bring up the gambling allegations. The judge cut him off.
“I’m not going to consider that at all,” Coogler said. It wasn’t clear what Rasmussen planned to say.
Blount’s Montgomery firm was accused of making $7.1 million off the bond deals with Jefferson County. The bonds were part of risky financing of sewer debt that has grown to more than $3 billion and pushed Alabama’s most populous county to the brink of filing the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Langford was accused of telling major Wall Street banks JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and the now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers to include Blount’s investment banking firm if they wanted to handle the county’s bond work.
Elected mayor in 2007, Langford was known for his rapid-fire ideas to revive the city. But some drew ridicule, such as his proposal to try to bring the 2020 Olympics to Birmingham, a city without a major sports franchise. He was automatically removed from office after his conviction.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.