Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ex-clerk pleads guilty in corruption case

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
— The final defendant in a federal corruption probe of the state bail bond industry entered a reluctant guilty plea in federal court Monday, admitting she accepted money from a corrupt bondsman, but insisting she never solicited it.
Four weeks after she aborted a change-of-plea proceeding at the last minute, Cynthia McClendon, 50, of New Haven, a former clerk in the state public defender’s office in New Haven, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of illegally accepting a gratuity in the form of $500 provided by bondsman Philip Jacobs. Facing his own criminal charges, Jacobs was secretly cooperating with the FBI.
“Mr. Jacobs called me while I was at work. He was worried about losing a bond (to forfeiture) and that he would get in trouble,” McClendon told Judge Janet Bond Arterton. “I thought he was a friend, but ...”
She didn’t finished the sentence.
At her house, she provided him with a file from the public defender’s office and he handed her an envelope.
“I didn’t ask for it, but I kept the money. I was wrong,” she said.
But Acting U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy, who prosecuted the case, argued in court that McClendon has admitted that for roughly 10 years she accepted money as a reward for access to files and information about people who jumped bond. The money came from Robert and Philip Jacobs, a father and son whose bail bond empire had a stranglehold on business at Superior Court at 121 Elm St. Usually, that information consisted of home addresses and contact information for defendants, she said.
Ironically, much information the Jacobses sought would have been available in public files in the clerk’s office.
In providing the entire public defender file, however, McClendon provided other privileged documents, prosecutors said.
McClendon faces four to 10 months in prison based on sentencing guidelines, but the judge can deviate above or below the range. Last week, a judicial marshal who also pleaded guilty to taking money from Philip Jacobs got probation instead of the four to 10 months she faced.
The entire situation didn’t appear to sit well with McClendon’s attorney, Robert C. Mirto, who opined in court that Jacobs was “bottom feeding” when he set up two low-level court workers after agreeing to cooperate with the FBI in hopes of getting leniency when he is sentenced.
And, while making it clear his client was guilty of the charge to which she pleaded, he took issue with Dannehy’s summation of McClendon’s criminal conduct, saying her portrayal “sounded worse to me than what actually happened.”
“She wasn’t the only one, and (the Jacobses) looked at any file they wanted for 20 years,” he said.
Indeed, said Mirto, the Jacobses were entrenched at 121 Elm St. long before McClendon worked there, and at one point had their own desk in the public defender’s office.
“When she went into that office, they ran that office like they ran that courthouse,” he said, adding, “There were a lot of things that happened in this courthouse over the years to get the Jacobses what they wanted.”
In exchange, the Jacobses would come in with lunch for office workers and give money to restock a candy jar, he said. Apparently, based on the FBI probe, they slipped cash rewards to people who helped them.
Dannehy repeated what she said she told Mirto already: If he has information about other criminal conduct, her office would be happy to listen.
McClendon is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 3.
The courthouse graft was uncovered as a spin-off of a federal probe of corruption in the New Haven Police Department. That investigation uncovered theft and a corrupt relationship between Lt. William “Billy” White, former head of the narcotics squad, and the Jacobs family. As the FBI listened in, the bondsmen paid White and a state police sergeant who was secretly cooperating with the FBI, thousands of dollars to track down fugitives who had jumped bail.
White is scheduled to begin his 38-month prison sentence June 10, the day the Jacobses are slated to be sentenced.

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