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State Senator Admits Extorting Attorneys

(CN)- Former state Sen. Vincent Leibell pleaded guilty Monday in Manhattan Federal Court to evading taxes for several years and interfering with the grand jury that was investigating him for corruption.

Leibell, a Republican who resigned from his Senate seat last week, has been under investigation by a federal grand jury, the FBI and the IRS since April, for allegations that he extorted cash payments from attorneys in Putnam County, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Prosecutors say one of Leibell's extortion victims represented a nonprofit group that received millions in New York State Senate member item grants that Leibell sponsored. Leibell told the attorney he would block payment by the nonprofit for legal services rendered unless the attorney paid half of what he was owed to Leibell in cash.

With 28 years in public office under his belt, Leibell found out that investigators were questioning witnesses and directed the attorney to lie to the FBI.

Prosecutors says Leibell told the attorney: "You and I say there was never any cash relationship. Period. ... Since you and I are in agreement, it didn't happen. ... All I know is, as long as you and I are consistent, I'm fine, you're fine. There was never any cash between you and I, OK?"

Leibell told the attorney, who is not named in court documents, to tell agents he had withdrawn money to take care of his aging mother and as an emergency protection in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In addition to obstruction of justice charge, Leibell admitted he did not report at least $43,000 in cash payments on his taxes from 2003 to 2006.

Leibell faces up to 2 years in prison when he is sentenced on March 7.

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