Prominent car dealer Gary Barbera will continue running his Northeast Philly business after a judge yesterday sentenced him to three years' probation for filing false tax returns, with the first year spent in home detention.

But Barbera, 46, can leave his Gladwyne home to work at his Chrysler dealership on Roosevelt Boulevard, travel for business, go to doctors' appointments or religious services and shop for his family's needs, U.S. District Judge Jan DuBois said.

DuBois said he found Barbera's history of charitable giving, in both money and time, to be "truly exceptional." He also noted that Barbera has no criminal history and is not likely to offend again.

The judge called the period of home detention "not fun," with Barbera having to wear an electronically monitored ankle bracelet - "a constant reminder of the seriousness of the offense."

Defense attorney Stephen LaCheen asked the judge for Barbera to be able to travel for business under house detention.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Crawley asked the judge to sentence Barbera within the advisory sentencing guideline range of 10 to 16 months in prison, saying he acted "out of greed" and a message should be sent to the public that "greed does get punished."

She said his contributions were mostly monetary, generating benefits for him through business deductions and publicity.

LaCheen took offense to that, noting that Barbera has spent time mentoring students at West Philadelphia High's award-winning Automotive Academy and volunteering at Northern Home for Children, Archbishop Ryan High School, and elsewhere.

He also argued that if Barbera was sent to prison, no one else could run the dealership, not even Barbera's brother Eugene, who handles sales, service and parts, but doesn't know the "business of the business," LaCheen said. And he argued that Barbera's 70 employees would be left without jobs and health insurance.

Barbera pleaded guilty on May 6 to filing false tax returns in 2003 and 2004, cheating Uncle Sam out of $77,675 in taxes. The judge ordered Barbera to pay restitution to the IRS of $119,744.55, which covers the tax loss plus interest, and $30,000 in court fines.

Crawley said both sums will be paid out of a tax refund Barbera is expected to receive of $274,000.