By STEPHANIE REITZ, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Thomas Gaffey, whose 16-year career as a prominent Connecticut senator was derailed by allegations of double-billing for minor expenses, pleaded guilty Wednesday to six misdemeanor larceny counts.
Gaffey also resigned and accepted a plea deal in Hartford Superior Court while his former colleagues were being sworn in to their new terms at the State Capitol a few blocks away.
Gaffey, a Democrat from Meriden, was ordered Wednesday to perform 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty to six counts of sixth-degree larceny.
The charges stemmed from six trips between 2004 and 2007 to legislative conferences. Prosecutors said he collected about $2,800 in travel expenses from his political action committee after already getting reimbursed by the state.
Superior Court Judge Julia Dewey told Gaffey that he had publicly humiliated himself for minimum gain, and would now always carry a criminal conviction reflecting questions about his honesty and integrity.
“The victims are the state of Connecticut and the constituents you served for 16 years. Rather than taking the oath of office, you’re pleading guilty here today,” Dewey told a subdued Gaffey as she accepted the plea deal.
“You compromised your legislative authority and did major damage to the faith of your constituents and the Legislature.”
Gaffey, 51, had announced after his arrest Monday that rather than serving the ninth two-year term he’d won in November, he would “walk off the political battlefield” and resolve the criminal case with the plea deal.
Gaffey could have pleaded not guilty and argued that the statute of limitations had expired _ a fact Dewey confirmed is true _ but his attorney said he wanted to resolve the matter rather than drag it out.
“I apologize to the court, I apologize to my family, my community, my district and the state of Connecticut,” Gaffey said during Wednesday’s proceedings. “I take full responsibility for these mistakes.”
Gaffey, who’d been co-chairman of the General Assembly’s powerful Education Committee, said he would especially miss working on legislation to help students. He declined to comment after the proceedings.
A special election will be held for another senator for Gaffey’s district, which includes Meriden and parts of Middletown and Cheshire.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission began investigating Gaffey’s financial filings in January 2008 after a preliminary audit showed they were incomplete.
In May 2009, Gaffey agreed to pay a $6,000 civil penalty after the commission found him in violation of campaign finance laws. The treasurer of his PAC, Dennis Ceneviva, had to pay a $3,000 fine.
When Gaffey agreed to pay the civil penalty, he said he regretted what he described as errors and “should have been more attentive to the details and requirements of the reimbursement process.”
Earlier that year, Gaffey said mistakes in his expense reports were overlooked while he was busy with his full-time job, his legislative duties and being a father.
His teenage son also had died unexpectedly a few months earlier, a fact that the judge referenced Wednesday as a “significant family loss” that played into her decision to approve his plea deal.
Gaffey is currently director of recycling and enforcement for the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, the regional, quasi-public trash authority.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)