McGee sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison

Ex-alderman shook down businesses

Michael McGee, the former firebrand alderman, was sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison Tuesday after he was convicted of using his power over liquor licenses in Milwaukee to shake down business owners for cash, food and cell phones.

The sentencing guidelines called for McGee to receive 12 ½ to 15 ½ years in prison. The prosecution asked for a sentence in the middle of that range. The defense requested four years.

With time served and credit for good behavior, McGee can expect to be done with his federal prison term in about 4 ½ years. He also was ordered to pay $107,433 in restitution.

U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert said he had seen McGee become less defiant and more respectful of the law since his first appearance in court. The judge also said McGee had done good deeds during his one term in office, citing a gun buyback program and an effort to create jobs for young people.

Clevert said McGee victimized and frightened business owners by extorting money from them. But the judge didn't focus on McGee's use of those bribes for personal expenses such as moving costs and attorney's fees. Rather, Clevert spoke of the former alderman extorting business owners to donate to crime reward funds and other activities.

"The ends don't justify the means," Clevert said. "You can't twist arms to get people to donate money to help others. This is not a Robin Hood nation."

McGee, 39, was convicted by a jury in June on nine counts that included bribery, extortion, attempted extortion and trying to hide a $30,000 transaction.

On secretly taped conversations played in court, McGee was heard shaking down business owners, saying, "I need bread" and he would take "cash or check." Referring to himself as the "gatekeeper" and "thug Mike," McGee said on the tapes that once on the powerful city Licenses Committee, he planned a citywide shakedown of liquor license holders.

McGee still faces state charges that he plotted to have a man beaten and other counts. He will be in state court Thursday.

McGee has been incarcerated since his arrest in May 2007. A federal judge refused to release him after evidence showed he was obstructing justice by intimidating witnesses and trying to sway their testimony from jail. McGee ran for re-election this spring from jail and lost.

The sentencing hearing started Friday but was continued to Tuesday to allow more testimony on the amount of losses by the government's key witness, business owner Adel "Jack" Kheirieh. Clevert ultimately allowed the government's entire recommended loss of $129,000, which drove up the guideline sentence.

After the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic said in a statement: "The evidence at the trial showed that Michael McGee Jr. was one of the most corrupt elected officials in Milwaukee's history. Although his sentence was below that recommended by the government, his case should serve as a deterrent for other elected officials who may prey on their constituents."

Remorse expressed

Saying in court that he felt as if he were at his own funeral, McGee apologized to his family, the community, victimized business owners, the Milwaukee Common Council and black pioneers who laid the groundwork for his accomplishments. He called himself "immature," "selfish," "narcissistic" and "spiritually flawed."

"I am so sorry that it makes me sick," said McGee, who wept in court. "I am a very poor, broken man."

McGee said his slide started when he cheated on his wife, which forced him to seek money. McGee was heard on tapes shaking down Kheirieh for attorney's fees for civil actions involving his girlfriend, whose child he fathered.

McGee told Clevert he had read a book that suggested black politicians seek money from business owners in their districts and funnel it toward good causes. He said he later learned that was illegal.

"I never knew quid pro quo was against the law," McGee said. During the trial, City Hall officials said there was training and McGee received it.

While behind bars, McGee said, he has reconnected with God and has enrolled in a minister-training program through the Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ, though he doesn't plan to become a full-time minister. McGee also said he is creating a curriculum for a young people's program at the request of Holy Redeemer's Bishop Sedgwick Daniels.

McGee's attorney, Calvin Malone, said his client was a "young man given opportunities, who had privileges and responsibilities and he failed. This is someone who lost his way."

Calling McGee's actions "flat-out racism," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Wall said he terrorized business owners who were Middle Eastern or Indian.

"His racism is some of the worst kind," Wall said. "He preyed on the weak."

Mike McGee, the defendant's father, told Clevert that when he was an alderman he always told his children, including Michael, never to take anything from store owners, including candy, because it could create the impression that something was owed in return. The elder McGee said he could see where his son was getting "drunk on power" and told him so, but the younger McGee didn't listen.

After the hearing, the senior McGee said his son needed punishment and that he thought the sentence was fair.

Malone said he, too, thought the sentence was fair and added he had not had a chance to talk to McGee about whether he wants to appeal the conviction or sentence.

ViAnna Jordan, who unsuccessfully challenged McGee in a recall election in 2007 and in the general election this year, called the sentence light.

"Wow, every politician-crook in Milwaukee should be elated because that means they can do whatever they want, victimize the community, victimize the city, take from the lowest of people, just rip off the whole community and all you get is merely 6 ½ years," she said.

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