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Jeff Smith sentenced to one year in prison

Former Missouri Senator Jeff Smith
(KWMU file photo)
Former Missouri Senator Jeff Smith

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis, MO – A former state Senator from St. Louis will spend a year and a day in prison for lying to federal authorities about illegal campaign activities in 2004.

The sentence handed down Tuesday to Jeff Smith marks the end of a rapid fall from grace for the Democrat, who represented most of the western half of the city.

Smith pleaded guilty in August to two counts of obstruction of justice for lying about his role in an illegal negative mailer against Russ Carnahan, who eventually won the 2004 primary and general elections for Missouri's 3rd Congressional district. The cover-up forced the Federal Election Commission to abandon an investigation into the mailer. Smith and two campaign associates - former state Representative Steve Brown and Nicholas Adams - then lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was looking into the initial cover-up.

"I left a piece of my honor back in that campaign," Smith told US District Judge Carol Jackson, in a courtroom packed with supporters, including former students at Washington University, where he taught a political ethics class, and state Representatives Jamilah Nasheed, Jake Zimmerman, and Don Calloway, all fellow Democrats. "I put myself in this room."

Jackson received at least 100 letters of support for Smith - letters he said he appreciates, as they show he will be judged on the totality of his character. Smith could have faced 15 to 21 months in prison, but Jackson appeared to take into account Smith's years of community service, which she said appeared to be genuine attempts to help others.

Jackson, however, denied a request from Smith's attorney, Richard Greenberg to allow his client to serve house arrest and continue his community service.

Assistant US Attorney Hal Goldsmith called the sentence an appropriate punishment.

"The people in this city, the people in this state, the people in this country, and I think that many politicians will view these guilty pleas and these sentences and understand that they will be prosecuted if we can prove the case," Goldsmith said.

Smith said he will use the time before he begins his sentence to reflect on the gap between political theory and political reality. He said he hopes to return to continue to serve St. Louis when his sentence is up.

"This has been a very difficult chapter in my life, but it will not be the last chapter, and it definitely won't be the defining chapter," he said.

Brown, the former state Representative, was sentenced to two years probation, and will pay a $40,000 fine. He assisted the government in the case, apparently by wearing a wire. But he was not visibly gloating outside the courthouse afterward.

"Careers have been ruined, and lives have been significantly damaged," Brown said. "There's really nothing good to say. I'm relieved, but am by no means elated, and it's certainly not a time for celebration."

Adams will also spend two years on probation, and pay a $5,000 fine.