Norris gets 6 months in prison

Sun Staff

Edward T. Norris, a blunt-talking, third-generation New York cop who came to Baltimore to be the city's police commissioner, was sentenced yesterday to six months in federal prison for treating a department expense account as his personal slush fund.

Neither a supportive letter from former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, nor a courtroom plea from Norris' wife, nor tears from Norris himself could persuade U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett to spare the former police commissioner prison time.

Norris, 43, who left the city department in late 2002 to head the Maryland State Police, and John Stendrini, 60, Norris' fellow defendant and former chief of staff, were "stars" and "the best" of law enforcement, Bennett said. And because of that, their misuse of police funds - in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the judge pointed out - was all the more offensive.

"If there was ever a time in the history of this country that we need to depend on the integrity of police, that time is now," Bennett said. "This was the wrong time for two outstanding cops to make a mistake."

Bennett sentenced Norris to six months' incarceration, followed by six months of home detention. The judge also ordered that Norris pay a $10,000 fine, and perform 500 hours of community service - in Baltimore, Bennett emphasized.

The judge sentenced Stendrini to three years of probation, with the first six months to be served as home detention. He will have to pay a $10,000 fine and do 300 hours of community service in Baltimore. The two men must also pay a combined $12,000 in restitution.

Norris pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to misuse money from the supplemental city police fund and to lying on tax returns. Days later, Stendrini pleaded guilty to conspiring with Norris. Prosecutors say Norris used the money to pay for romantic liaisons with women, and for lavish meals, hotel stays and gifts.

A tearful Norris

Norris, usually the image of brash self-confidence, dabbed at his eyes with a white handkerchief yesterday as his wife, Kathryn, stood next to the defense table and asked the judge for leniency. She called her husband a "real cop" and a "loving, loyal companion" who has recently been acting as a stay-at-home dad for their 5-year-old son in the couple's rented home in Tampa, Fla.

"Eddie is a great father, and I need him with me at home, to keep our family together," she said.

When it was his turn to talk, the former police commissioner's tears flowed freely.

"I fully accept responsibility for what happened here," he said. "I know what it's done to the Police Department, I know what it's done to my family."

He paused, wiping his eyes.

"I've said I was sorry for this many, many times. I'll be saying it for the rest of my life."

On the job

Norris came to Baltimore to take the police commissioner post in early 2000 and quickly became the public face of Democratic Mayor Martin O'Malley's pledge to reduce the number of homicides in the city. The duo, young and confident, were regularly spotted around town together.

Soon after he started, Norris implemented the "get tough" policing policies first tested in his native New York, and began reshuffling what was widely considered a troubled city police force. Under his watch, the number of homicides dropped below 300 for the first time in a decade.

But prosecutors say Norris began doing something else as soon as he joined the Baltimore department - dipping into an off-the-books, supplemental police fund, originally created as a Depression-era charity fund.

'The true loss'

Prosecutors said yesterday that they believe Norris took close to $30,000 from the account. But they said the damage was much more expensive.

"The true loss cannot be measured in dollars," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason M. Weinstein. "It has to include the loss of public confidence in our public officials."

Norris' lawyer, David B. Irwin, asked the judge yesterday to sentence his client to six months of home detention, saying that prison time is particularly hard for police officers. Irwin asked that the judge consider letters sent by Norris' supporters, including one from Giuliani, in which the former mayor called Norris "creative, hardworking and dedicated to the mission of fighting crime."

Stern comments

But an animated Bennett said the many accolades show just how serious Norris' and Stendrini's crimes were. He expressed disbelief that, soon after 9/11, the two men essentially blew off an International Association of Chiefs of Police convention focused on terrorism, instead using that time and taxpayer money for their own dalliances.

"This was not the time to go off on a lark," Bennett said.

As the judge spoke, Norris' father, a former New York police officer who appeared to have been crying, walked out of the courtroom.

As it became clear that the former commissioner would be sentenced to prison, his mother, sitting in the front courtroom bench, put her hand over her mouth.

Norris, standing stiffly with his hands clasped in front of him, turned to his wife and nodded. She nodded back, and he turned his gaze again to the judge.

Bennett recommended that Norris serve his time at the minimum-security federal prison at Eglin Air Force Base, sometimes referred to as "Club Fed," which once housed former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel.

But the Federal Bureau of Prisons will make the final decision on where to put Norris. The judge said the former police commissioner can turn himself in within 30 days.

'Very disappointed'

Afterward, Irwin said that he, Norris, and Norris' family were "very disappointed" about the prison time.

Norris and his wife left the courthouse together, with Kathryn clinging to his arm.

He kept his mouth clenched, and she bit her lip as they pushed through a swarm of reporters and television cameras. Neither said a word before they climbed into a waiting black sport utility vehicle.

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