Former New York City police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who was hailed as a hero after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and nearly became chief of Homeland Security, was sentenced Thursday to four years in federal prison.
Kerik, a protege of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, pleaded guilty in November to eight felonies, including tax fraud and lying to the White House while being vetted for the Homeland Security post in 2004.
District Judge Stephen Robinson said Kerik, 54, made "a conscious decision to essentially lie to the President of the United States to get a Cabinet position."
Robinson went well beyond federal sentencing guidelines, which suggested 27 to 33 months. He said the guidelines do not take into account "the almost operatic proportions of this case."
The judge said that after 9/11, Kerik in many ways acted in the "highest tradition of a public servant."
"The fact that Mr. Kerik would use that event for personal gain and aggrandizement is a dark place in the soul for me," Robinson said.
Robinson said some of the crimes were committed while Kerik was "the chief law enforcement officer for the biggest and grandest city this nation has."
"It is a very sad day when the former commissioner of the greatest police department in the world is sentenced to prison for base criminal conduct," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
Kerik told the judge he had "become a better person."
"I know I must be punished," he said before being sentenced. "I only ask that you allow me to return to my wife and two little girls as soon as possible." His daughters are 7 and 9 years old.
Stint in psychiatric ward
When the four-year sentence was imposed, Kerik stared straight ahead, showing no emotion.
Kerik had been free on bond and under house arrest since pleading guilty. Prosecutors asked that he be sent straight to jail on Thursday, but the judge allowed him to return home while a prison is selected for him and to surrender voluntarily on May 17. The conditions of his release, including wearing an electronic monitoring device, continue.
Kerik spent three weeks in jail last fall when Robinson said he released secret pretrial information that could influence a jury pool. While in jail, Kerik voluntarily spent 10 days in the psychiatric ward for observation because of stress. Doctors concluded he did not need mental care.
As Kerik left the courthouse Thursday for his home in New Jersey, he read a statement apologizing to the nation and hoping that history will judge him "for 30 years of service I've given to the country and the city of New York."
Kerik had already been ordered to pay $188,000 in restitution and to pay past-due taxes and penalties on six years of tax returns.