WASHINGTON -- An Arizona politician who accepted bribes from undercover FBI agents is kind of like President Abraham Lincoln, former Rep. Harry. E. Mitchell (D-Ariz.) contended in a letter made public this week.
Former state Rep. Ben Arredondo (D) was indicted last May on bribery, fraud and attempted extortion charges. The feds said that as a Tempe, Ariz., councilman, Arredondo accepted thousands of dollars in sports tickets from undercover agents during an FBI sting operation. In exchange for the tickets, Arredondo set up meetings with city officials in Tempe and gave the undercover agents tips on how to maneuver the city's bureaucracy. He pleaded guilty to honest services fraud and mail fraud in October and resigned from the state legislature. Federal prosecutors want him sent to prison for 30 to 37 months when he is sentenced on Jan. 23.
Arredondo's lawyers filed a sentencing memorandum on Wednesday arguing he should be kept out of prison and attached several letters of support. One of those letters was from Mitchell, who thought the judge might benefit from seeing Daniel Day Lewis' performance as the 16th president in Steven Spielberg's latest blockbuster.
"In the recent movie 'Lincoln' one is struck by the number of actions taken by President Lincoln that were of questionable legality but justified because they resulted in the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution that ended slavery," Mitchell wrote.
"I do believe that many of Ben's actions were more to further his legislative agenda of helping those in need than for helping himself," he continued. "While his actions did result in relatively small illegitimate personal gains they also resulted in larger legitimate gains for those who needed assistance. This does not justify the actions but helps explain why a person of such standing stooped to such means."
Arredondo might not have been working to free generations of African-Americans from enslavement, but he was helping some kids attend school through a scholarship program he ran when he served on the city council. The problem, say prosecutors, is that 48 percent of the scholarship money sent to Arizona University benefited six of Arredondo's relatives.
Most of the case against Arredondo centers on approximately $6,000 worth of sports tickets he received from executives from Longford Solutions, a fake FBI company. Undercover agents presented themselves as New York executives interested in buying up Tempe real estate.
Based on public information requests and interviews with individuals familiar with the case, Talking Points Memo reported in June that well-known Arizona lobbyist Mike Williams was first to introduce Arredondo to representatives of Longford Solutions. Court documents filed in the Arredondo case have recently confirmed Williams' involvement with the case.
Williams lobbied several members of the state legislature on behalf of Longford Solutions in 2009, but other than Arredondo, none of them were ever charged with any wrongdoing. Selected transcripts of Williams' one-on-one conversations with an undercover FBI agent known as "Bill Monahan" published by federal prosecutors and Arredondo's defense team don't shed much light on whether additional lawmakers or lobbyists will be charged in connection with the Arredondo probe.
Mitchell, the former congressman, did not respond to a request for comment about the letter he wrote on Arredondo's behalf. Arredondo was a student of Mitchell's when Mitchell was a high school teacher and currently lives near him. Mitchell's son also shared an office with Arredondo when they were both on the Tempe City Council.
Mitchell was first elected to Congress in 2006 and served until 2010. His full letter is embedded below.