Former Minneapolis council member sentenced in bribery caseby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
A federal judge has sentenced former Minneapolis city council member Dean Zimmermann to two and a half years in prison. Zimmermann was convicted on three bribery charges in August. Before receiving his sentence, Zimmermann apologized to his family and friends who packed the courtroom.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Before she passed sentence, Judge Ann Montgomery listened to final remarks from Zimmermann's lawyer, the prosecution and then Zimmermann himself.
Attorney Dan Scott read from letters sent to the judge on Zimmermann's behalf. The letters were from friends and colleagues who reflected on Zimmermann's past as a civil rights activist who, in the 1960s, travelled to Mississippi to help disenfranchised African Americans register to vote.
But the prosecution countered that what really mattered was that in 2005, Zimmermann accepted $7,200 in cash from a developer working undercover for the FBI. Judge Montgomery told Zimmermann that she read all the letters sent by his supporters. And she told him that his devotion to public service and lack of criminal history made his conviction "disillusioning and sad."
Montgomery also gave Zimmermann an opportunity to shave off seven months of his prison time by participating in a drug and alcohol treatment program for Zimmermann's admitted regular use of marijuana.
Zimmermann says he can make improvements in his life and he'll complete the program.
Later, when asked if he'd done anything wrong, Zimmermann did not admit to taking a bribe. He says his mistake was one of carelessness.
"I forgot to be paranoid," Zimmermann said. "It never occurred to me that they were plotting to set me up the way they did."
Zimmermann is referring to the three occasions when developer Gary Carlson wore a hidden camera and filmed himself giving the councilmember envelopes of cash.
Carlson was instructed by FBI agents before each meeting that when giving the money to Zimmermann he should try to establish a quid-pro-quo arrangement -- that he was giving the money to Zimmermann in return for the councilmember's help.
Zimmermann says he was off his game and didn't see it coming.
"If I'd been thinking about that, that 'Oh, these guys are trying to bribe me and stuff,' then I would have recognized it. But I was in the middle of a campaign, doing a lot of fundraising, and it didn't seem any different from any other fundraising."
Zimmermann was also ordered to pay back $6,000 of the $7,200 he received from the FBI, through Carlson. The remaining $1,200 were found in Zimmermann's house during an FBI raid last September.
Zimmermann has maintained an upbeat demeanor throughout the trial and on the day of his sentencing.
"I'm sure I will have an opportunity to meet a lot of people I otherwise wouldn't have gotten a chance to meet," Zimmermann said. "And I'm sure that if many of them are young, they can probably benefit from some of my life experiences. But I don't know what it will be like on the inside."
Zimmermann has asked to be sent to the federal prison in Yankton, South Dakota. He says he chose Yankton because he has family that lives near there and because the prison offers the drug treatment program. Judge Ann Montgomery says she will recommend the facility, but cannot make the final decision as to where he will be incarcerated.
Zimmermann says an appeal will be filed, but is preparing to report to prison on Jan. 29, 2007.
- All Things Considered, 12/19/2006, 5:23 p.m.