Former GOP congressman "wallowed in massive self-pity," jurist says

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Saturday, April 24, 2010

BALLSTON SPA -- John Sweeney, who was nicknamed "Congressman Kick-Ass" by President George W. Bush, appeared in shackles Friday, his political power long gone.

Sweeney, 54, was sentenced to 30 days in the Saratoga County Jail and three years probation. The plea bargain, stemming from Sweeney's arrest a year ago for drunken driving in Clifton Park, also includes 19 conditions.

Sweeney had pleaded guilty earlier to a 2007 DWI charge.

As part of his latest sentence, Sweeney will have to wear an alcohol-sensing ankle bracelet for a year when he leaves jail in May. He must also perform 300 hours of community service. He will not be able to leave the state without written permission and will not be allowed to drive. Sweeney pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of DWI Feb. 26 after protracted negotiations between District Attorney James Murphy's office and then special prosecutor Derek Champagne following Murphy recusing himself. Sweeney was willing to go to jail, said E. Stewart Jones, his lawyer. Jones said his client would not plead guilty to a felony because a felony conviction would cost him his law license.

Sweeney wore cuffs on his hands and shackles on his feet like any other inmate, but was allowed to wear a suit for his court appearance with Jones. When given the opportunity by Acting State Supreme Court Justice Guy Tomlinson, Sweeney said he considers his guilty plea and sentence part of his recovery and said he has "spent the past year in recovery."

"I hope going forward to be a positive example for others," he said.

Sweeney underwent treatment at the Hanley Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. He has also been attending two group meetings a week and individual counseling sessions, Tomlinson said, quoting a lengthy pre-sentencing report.

The judge read other details from the report, describing Sweeney's arrest by State Police on Route 9 when he refused to take a Breathalyzer test to measure his blood alcohol content.

Sweeney "wallowed in massive self-pity," Tomlinson said, and lost his wife and job due to drinking.

Sweeney has two children with his first wife, Betty. He and his second wife, Gayle, divorced in 2007.

Sweeney turned himself in April 14 to start serving his 30-day sentence early. He is unlikely to serve more than two-thirds of the sentence and would be free by May 1 after just 20 days in jail.

Prosecutors released a video of Sweeney's booking Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Law request from the Times Union. In the video, the former congressman can be seen fumbling and nearly falling after police ask him to remove his shoes.

Leigh Hornbeck can be reached at 454-5352 or by e-mail at lhornbeck@timesunion.com. Senior writer Brendan Lyons contributed to this report.


On the Web

See a video of former U.S. Rep. John Sweeney being booked for his April 2009 drunken-driving charge at http:/timesunion.com/