updated 7/31/2008 6:14:46 AM ET 2008-07-31T10:14:46

The former head of the Illinois prison system was sentenced Wednesday to two years in federal prison for taking payoffs from lobbyists.

"What I did was absolutely wrong," said Donald Snyder, who admitted pocketing $50,000 from lobbyists when he was director of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

He said he hoped his conviction on the charges would not bias employers against his daughters when they grow up and look for jobs. "I'm sorry, girls," he said, turning to the bench where they were sitting.

Snyder, who pleaded guilty, also volunteered to be a federal witness, secretly recorded corrupt conversations and testified at the trial of one of the lobbyists.

'Lack of memory'
Judge James B. Zagel chastised Snyder. "I didn't believe much of your testimony and I didn't believe much of your testimony because of your claimed lack of memory," Zagel told him.

Snyder admitted that he took $30,000 from Larry Sims, a lobbyist for two vendors. He said he pocketed up to $20,000 from two other lobbyists, former Cook County undersheriff John Robinson and Michael J. Mahoney.

Sims and Robinson have pleaded guilty. Mahoney was acquitted in a bench trial before Zagel.

The case drew attention not only because of Snyder's position but because Mahoney had lobbied the prison system while executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison reform organization.

Gang violence reduced
Besides sentencing Snyder to two years in prison, Zagel ordered him to forfeit $50,000, the amount of the payoffs he pocketed, and perform 300 hours of community service at a rate of 20 hours a week.

Michael Metnick, Snyder's lawyer, urged Zagel to consider the good job Snyder did in improving the state's prison system, reducing the amount of gang violence.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Levin said that much of Snyder's tenure as corrections director was marked by "waste, mismanagement, cronyism and abuse of office."

Zagel said Snyder, who served as Illinois corrections director from 1999 through early 2003, diminished the stature of government officials by setting a terrible example and making people doubt their integrity.

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