SCRANTON – Saying he showed arrogant contempt for the law, federal prosecutors on Monday asked a judge to sentence former state Sen. Robert Mellow to two years in prison for a guilty plea to corruption and tax charges.
Mellow, 70, is scheduled appear before U.S. District Judge Joel Slomsky on Friday to be sentenced on charges related to his use of Senate staff to conduct campaign work for himself and his political allies. He also admitted underreporting his income on his 2008 tax return.
Federal sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of 18 to 24 months. In a sentencing memorandum filed Monday, U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith argues the stiffer sentence is warranted because Mellow was more than willfully blind to his staff's activity.
Senior Mellow staffers stated that Mellow not only knew about the fundraising and campaign work … in many instances he directed the activity, Smith said.
The government estimates Mellow's conduct cost taxpayers $79,806 in salaries that were paid to staff while they did political work on state time.
Staffers said Mellow, among other things, repeatedly pressured them to raise campaign funds, including work on several annual fundraisers. He also directed staff to perform a wide range of activities for other candidates, such as garnering signatures for nominating petitions and working on political strategies for targeted races.
In 2007, staffers attended at least three meetings with Mellow and political consultants during regular Senate business hours to discuss Mellow's potential run for governor.
Most disturbing, Smith said, is Mellow continued to order staff to perform political work even after two other state lawmakers – former state Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia, and former state Rep. Jeff Habay, R-Shaler Township, were convicted of charges related to the misuse of staff for political purposes.
After Fumo's conviction, one staff member warned Mellow that if staff continued to do political work they could go to jail, but Mellow dismissed the concern, telling the staffer, I'm not Fumo; Fumo's a criminal.
Mellow's continued misuse in the wake of the Fumo and Habay cases demonstrated a remarkable lack of respect, even contempt, for the law, Smith said.
This conduct involved a serious lack of respect for the law by one of the state's leading lawmakers, Smith said. When the people who write the laws break the law, it seriously erodes the public's trust in public officials and government institutions.
Mellow, of Peckville, was the longest-serving member of the Senate, representing the 22nd Senatorial District, prior to his retirement in November 2010. While acknowledging Mellow's service, Smith said any good he did must be weighed against the harm he has caused by placing his own political ambitions above the public's trust.
Mellow achieved significant power and influence in the state Senate and at times used that power and influence to benefit the people he represented, Smith said. But with that power and influence also comes responsibility … to obey the law and use the public's money for official, legal purposes and the public good. Mellow did not live up to that responsibility.
Former state Sen. Robert Mellow is scheduled to be sentenced at 9:30 a.m. Friday before U.S. District Judge Joel Slomsky at the federal courthouse in Scranton.