Once a Democratic fund-raising power broker known to hobnob with mayors and congressmen, Samuel G. Kuttab is headed back to prison - this time for using his political influence in an attempt to fix a case in Philadelphia Municipal Court.
U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez on Friday sentenced Kuttab to six months in prison, the latest punishment in a federal probe aimed at rooting out corruption in city courts.
During Kuttab's sentencing hearing Wednesday, the judge had harsh words for what the defendant had done.
"The framework of our judicial system is fairness - that a judge is not corrupt," Sanchez said Wednesday. "This man had a judge in his pockets. The understanding was, 'I help you, you help me.' "
Kuttab called his 2011 attempt to fix a case "one of the stupidest acts of my life."
But he offered few explanations when his turn came to address the judge. "What will I do tomorrow? I don't know," Kuttab said. "But I hope to God it will not be breaking the law. I never want to be seen on that side of the line."
After the hearing, Sanchez had said he would render his decision Friday.
After a day of contemplation, Sanchez said Friday he had considered a sentence higher than the maximum six months under federal guidelines. But the judge weighed Kuttab's community work and opted for the maximum - and three years of supervised release and a $4,000 fine.
Kuttab, 55, declined to comment Friday. His lawyer, Luther E. Weaver III, said the judge's sentence was "fair under all of the circumstances."
Kuttab pleaded guilty in March to one count of mail fraud, admitting he used his influence over former Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr. in an attempt to fix a small-claims case.
He twice approached Waters, whose campaigns Kuttab had supported, after his family's property-management company was sued over a $2,700 debt.
The plaintiff - Montgomery County-based Houdini Lock & Safe Co. - said it never received payment on a contract Kuttab signed hiring it to monitor alarms at a warehouse his family owned.
When the case came to trial before Municipal Court Judge Joseph J. O'Neill in November of that year, Waters intervened.
"He's a friend of mine, so if you can, take a hard look at it," Waters told O'Neill in a conversation caught on FBI wiretap and quoted in court filings.
"No problem," O'Neill replied. The judge later found in Kuttab's favor.
When Houdini later threatened to appeal O'Neill's ruling, Waters again stepped in and helped broker a settlement. In the end, Kuttab paid Houdini $600 of the $2,700 it said he owed.
Waters was sentenced to two years in prison in January. O'Neill, who has not been charged, was removed from actively hearing cases by state judicial authorities after Waters' indictment.
Kuttab last served time in a federal detention center in 2002, after pleading guilty to tax evasion charges tied to his hiding of income he earned from his family security company, which held city contracts worth millions.
At Wednesday's sentencing hearing, Kuttab's family members, friends, and his pastor pleaded with Sanchez to sentence him to probation, citing his dedication to his community.
Though he once ran with the likes of Mayor John F. Street and U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Pa.), his status as an ex-felon has rendered him politically toxic, his backers said. He has since devoted himself to managing his wife's grocery store in Kensington.
Sanchez appeared unimpressed as he refused to grant the request for probation.
"It is beyond me how you managed to find yourself in the same predicament," Sanchez told Kuttab. "I think you have very little respect for the law."