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Former GOP official sentenced to 10 months for phone-jamming

CONCORD, N.H. --Former Republican National Committee official James Tobin was sentenced to 10 months in prison Wednesday for his role in an Election Day phone-jamming plot against New Hampshire Democrats.

Tobin, of Bangor, Maine, was found guilty in December on two felony telephone harassment charges. He also was fined $10,000, followed by two years probation. The judge rejected a request from Tobin's lawyers for a six-month sentence of home confinement and community service.

U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe said Wednesday he was impressed by the letters and testimony about Tobin's many acts of kindness toward friends and family, but wished Tobin "had a better sense of how serious this was."

The phone jamming was not just a dirty trick, he said. "It was a direct assault on a free and fair electoral system. ... We'll never know if the wrong people are sitting in government because of this effort."

McAuliffe called this a difficult sentencing after hearing about Tobin's work mentoring youth at his church, befriending a single mother and taking in her son over several summers, supporting grieving friends and providing bedside care to the sick, including one friend who died with Tobin at his side last week.

"He is my role model for what a husband and father should be," said Steven Langlois, who said he's known Tobin 30 years.

Tobin's wife, Ellen, also testified about her husband's involvement in raising their four children, staying home with their firstborn so she could gain traction in her career. They later reversed roles. "He has the highest integrity," she said.

"You've led an otherwise exemplary life," McAuliffe noted, saying this lapse would not define Tobin's life. But McAuliffe said the sentence must serve as a deterrent to others.

"People in your role need to know they cannot do this," he said.

Tobin, 45, was convicted of helping a top state GOP official find someone to jam Democratic get-out-the-vote lines on Election Day 2002. Republican John Sununu defeated then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen for the U.S. Senate that day in what had been considered a cliffhanger.

Tobin was a regional official of the RNC and of the GOP committee focused on winning U.S. Senate races. He later became New England chairman of President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, but stepped down when Democrats accused him of playing a role in the jamming.

Prosecutors initially asked for a two-year prison sentence; on Wednesday, they changed it to one year.

Tobin apologized to the court, the community and his family, saying he wished he hadn't gotten involved and regretted he hadn't acted to stop it.

"I have tried to live my life honestly and with integrity," he said.

Several of the Democrats affected by the phone jamming spoke to the court about their experience, including Manchester firefighter Mark Pelletier.

"The thing that bothered me the most is the way, in my opinion, it affected the senior citizens," he said. Pelletier said he spoke to one elderly woman who had tried over and over to phone in for a ride to the polls only to get a busy signal. "This was totally unfair to these people," he said.

State Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan said the sentence was fair but she is still angry that Tobin showed little remorse.

Bail pending his appeal was denied; Tobin is scheduled to report to prison on June 23.

The scheme jammed get-out-the-vote phone lines set up by the state Democratic Party and the Manchester firefighters' union for more than an hour with more than 800 hang-up calls.

The jamming has led to four criminal prosecutions, a civil lawsuit and a recent flurry of political attacks.

The two people who pleaded guilty to criminal charges are Charles McGee, executive director of the state Republican Party in 2002, and Allen Raymond, then head of GOP Marketplace, a telemarketing firm in Alexandria, Va. Both testified against Tobin at his trial.

Tobin was convicted of putting McGee in touch with Raymond, who hired another telemarketing firm to actually place the hundreds of hang-up calls. A co-owner of that firm at the time, Shaun Hansen, of Spokane, Wash., was indicted in March.

The RNC has spent about $3 million defending Tobin, which Democrats -- and some Republicans -- say makes it appear the GOP tolerates corruption. Democrats renewed their criticism Wednesday in response to news that White House political adviser Karl Rove will attend a state party fundraiser next month.

"By helping the New Hampshire Republican Party cover the costs of their lengthy legal stonewall, Karl Rove is once again using the power of the White House to bury this investigation," state Democratic Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan said in a statement. "Three and a half years after the phone-jamming, New Hampshire voters still don't know who paid for the crime, who knew about it, or who authorized it."

State GOP Chairman Wayne Semprini did not return a call seeking comment. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the state GOP, burdened by the costs of defending a civil lawsuit filed by state Democrats, has only about $700 in the bank. GOP officials referred questions about party finances to Semprini.

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