Former Manhattan state Assemb. Gabriela Rosa was sentenced in federal court on Friday to a year and a day in prison after claiming that a sham marriage to illegally get citizenship and bankruptcy fraud were part of her pursuit of the American dream.
Rosa, 47, a naturalized citizen from the Dominican Republic elected in 2012 to represent Washington Heights and Inwood, became the latest in a parade of Albany politicians caught up in scandal in June when she pleaded guilty and resigned her legislative office.
In court papers, Rosa asked for probation, comparing herself to Horatio Alger and telling Manhattan U.S. District Judge Denise Cote that she was an up-from-the-bootstraps immigrant who was "naive" and made bad choices in seeking a better life for her son.
"I was following the American dream," she said.
But prosecutors contested that claim. Rosa paid $8,000 for a sham marriage to get citizenship because the man she was actually dating was a convicted narcotics trafficker, they said, and later hid assets to escape $30,000 in credit card debt and used her phony citizenship to run for public office.
The judge also had sharp words for the ex-legislator.
"I think that to . . . justify that as a path immigrants take in pursuit of the American dream is really a disservice to all our immigrants who actually try to follow the law and gain citizenship legitimately," Cote said.
Rosa, speaking to the judge in a courtroom packed with her supporters, also said she hadn't abused her Assembly office and asked for leniency based on her responsibilities to care for her mother and her 16-year-old mentally disabled son.
"I am a mother first and for my son I will do any sacrifice," she said. "Being away from him, it will really be hurting him."
But Cote said other caregivers were available. "Innocent family members often suffer because of a defendant's decision to violate the law and commit criminal acts," the judge added.
Rosa wept after she was sentenced.
Until her downfall, Rosa was the first Dominican-born woman to serve in the Assembly. She got her start as an aide to Manhattan Assemb. Herman "Denny" Farrell, the longtime chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
She got letters of support asking for leniency from several elected officials including Farrell, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and state Sen. Ruben Diaz - all of whom echoed the claim that her crimes were mitigated by the fact that she was an immigrant struggling to succeed.
Despite Rosa's admission that she got citizenship fraudulently, prosecutors agreed not to seek deportation, according to a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
The spokeswoman had no comment on why officials agreed to let her stay in the United States.