WASHINGTON – The Democrat who narrowly lost to then-Rep. Chris Collins last November on Wednesday asked the judge in the former lawmaker's insider trading case to give him a tough sentence – and take back his congressional salary and pension.
In a letter to U.S. Court Judge Vernon S. Broderick, Nate McMurray – who plans on running for Collins' open seat in an upcoming special election – acknowledged "some discomfort" in celebrating Collins' guilty plea last week.
"However, with his re-election predicated on an admittedly false claim of innocence, I urge that in sentencing, you recognize this fraud on the taxpayers of this nation and the people of New York's 27th congressional district and require him, in addition to whatever other penalties you deem appropriate, to also require him to repay his salary from the date of his indictment until his resignation and forfeit his taxpayer-funded pension," McMurray wrote.
If Broderick were to agree with McMurray, it would cost Collins approximately $373,742 in disgorged salary.
However, it's difficult to estimate how much Collins would lose if Broderick revoked his pension.
The maximum congressional pension for those who served at least 10 years in Congress is $139,200, but given that Collins served less than seven years in the House, his pension would be less than that.
Under federal law, though, it appears that Collins would be entitled to that pension, unless Congress or the judge were to act. Federal lawmakers automatically lose their pension if they are convicted of a felony involving espionage, treason or other acts that endanger national security. But otherwise, they can keep their pensions unless, as federal law states, they are convicted of a felony that “directly relates to the performance of the individual’s official duties," although Congress or a judge can revoke those retirement benefits.
Collins pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to the FBI after admitting that he gave his son Cameron an inside stock tip. And while Collins called his son with that inside information from a White House picnic, that stock tip does not appear to be directly related to Collins' work as a congressman.
McMurray told the judge, though, that he had plenty of reasons to give Collins a tough sentence.
"As a member of Congress, Mr. Collins said he worked for his donors – not the people of Batavia, Hamburg, Canandaigua, Warsaw or the countless other small towns and communities within New York's 27th district," McMurray wrote. "Following his guilty plea last week, Mr. Collins has admitted that his actions were in fact illegal; that he knew they were illegal; and that his claims of innocence were false."
Given that Collins ran for re-election knowing in his heart that he was guilty, "he knowingly abused the trust of the people of Western New York," McMurray said.
McMurray – who posted his letter to Twitter Wednesday evening – is likely to be among the first of many interested parties who want to give Broderick some advice, before he sentences Collins next Jan. 17.
The plea deal Collins signed with prosecutors says he will not contest a sentence of up to 57 months in prison – but under federal law, the maximum sentence for the two crimes Collins committed is 10 years.
In addition, under federal sentencing guidelines, Collins is likely to have to pay fines in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars, and a civil suit filed against him by the Securities and Exchange Commission could cost him even more.
Earlier this week, Collins sent an email to friends and associates, asking them to write to the judge and recommend a lenient sentence.
"It is important for us to get letters of support from those who know me best and can attest to my character and years of service and accomplishments," Collins wrote.
But that prompted grassroots critics of Collins to say that they would write to the judge, too.
As for McMurray, he combined his criticism with a dose of sympathy for Collins along with his son Cameron and Stephen Zarsky, Cameron Collins' future father-in-law, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud in the case. Then-Rep. Collins, a Clarence Republican who has since moved to Florida, passed on an inside stock tip to his son, who passed it on to Zarsky.
"Much about this case is inherently tragic," McMurray said. "A district has been denied its due representation in Congress; an individual of great progress, a fellow Eagle Scout no less, betrayed his constituents and will forever have his name tainted; a son followed his father's request and now stands on the verge of incarceration and a lifetime defined by a criminal act not of his own creation," McMurray wrote. "I have true sympathy for everyone caught up in Mr. Collins' web of illegal activity and look forward to our district moving on."