Rep. Ben Arredondo avoids prison time
A former state lawmaker convicted in a federal bribery sting was sentenced Wednesday to three years probation with 1½ years of home confinement.
Ben Arredondo had pleaded guilty to charges including mail fraud and bribery. The charges stem from his long stint as a Tempe city councilman. During his time in office, Arredondo accepted bribes, including sporting event tickets and other items, from FBI agents posing as developers who wanted to build a project in Tempe.
The mail fraud charge stemmed from a scholarship fund Arredondo established for students at Arizona State University. Nearly half of the money raised funded scholarships for Arredondo's relatives. However, since they weren't immediate relatives – they were nieces, nephews, and similar relation – the scholarship fund didn't violate the pledge that the donations would not go to immediate family.
Arredondo's attorney noted that when letters were sent to donors explaining that almost 50% of the donations had gone to Arredondo's relatives and offering reimbursement, only one donor requested a refund of his donation.
The attorney also pointed out that when it came to the tickets and other goodies that Arredondo accepted, he didn't keep any of them. "He didn't attend a single game," his attorney said. Rather, Arredondo gave his spoils to others, from family members or friends to charities.
At Wednesday's sentencing, the government asked for a sentence of 18 months in prison and a $49,000 fine, arguing that probation would send the wrong message to other public officials who may accept bribes in the future.
However, Arredondo's family members, and Arredondo himself, tearfully told the judge that in the last few years, the 65-year-old has been diagnosed with progressive dementia, and that being away from his family by spending time in prison would be devastating to his mental and physical health.
U.S. District Judge Frederick Martone said that it obviously was "not a typical fraud case" and had it not been for the FBI sting, Arredondo might have never committed a crime. Between that finding and Arredondo's declining health, the judge sentenced him to three years probation including 18 months of home confinement, saying Arredondo's home "would become his prison" since he won't be allowed to leave.
The judge also fined Arredondo $5,000.
After the hearing, state Sen. Ed Ableser said the sentence was fair. Ableser was 18 when he first met Arredondo, who became Ableser's political mentor. Ableser said during the 13 years that the two were friends, Arredondo was nothing but fair and honest. He said he had noticed Arredondo's declining mental abilities: "Over those 13 years, he went from very witty and astute to very forgetful. He was constantly introducing me to people that I'd met over 25 times from his family or the Tempe community... In his last year of service, he was declining very severely."