Once captain of Wissahickon High School's basketball team and a criminal justice major at the University of Maryland, Justin Lee stood before a federal judge Tuesday to apologize for his role in one of the largest contracting and bribery cases to emerge from the Iraq War.
Lee, caught in what he called a "culture of corruption," said he knew right from wrong. He said he wanted to please his father, absent from Lee's childhood and described by prosecutors as the mastermind behind a scheme that brought in millions.
"Yes, I still do love my father," Lee, 37, told the judge. "But I no longer seek his love to justify who I am as an individual."
Lee's cooperation helped the government unravel the depth of the graft that sent his father to federal prison for 41/2 years. And on Tuesday, Lee was sentenced to one year and one day in prison - well below sentencing guidelines.
U.S. District Judge Joel H. Slomsky found Lee - almost a decade removed from his crimes - remorseful, unlike his father. At his July sentencing, George H. Lee Jr. rejected claims that he gave more than $1 million in cash, jewelry, spa treatments, and hotel stays to Army officials who steered $20 million in contracts his way between 2004 and 2006.
Prosecutors said father and son cultivated relationships with a circle of African American contracting officers at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, based on their shared racial background.
That group included Maj. Gloria Davis, who killed herself in 2006, a day after admitting to Army investigators in Baghdad that she helped steer $14 million in contracts to the Lees.
In 2005, Justin Lee arranged a $400,000 payment to Maj. John Cockerham to secure a contract to supply bottled water for soldiers.
George and Justin Lee lived well, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard B. Evans said. They had a lavish condo in Las Vegas. Justin Lee purchased a condo on South Street for his family.
But Lee, who has worn an ankle bracelet under home confinement for almost five years, has changed, his lawyer, Felicia Sarner, said. Lee was evicted. He moved his family into his mother's house in Blue Bell. He became her caretaker while she underwent treatment for terminal cancer. Then, Lee's daughter was diagnosed as a juvenile diabetic.
"There is no doubt that Justin Lee at 37 years old is not the same person he was when he was 25 or 26," Slomsky said. But the judge called Lee's crimes "some of the most serious" seen in his court.
"There is no excuse for bribery," Slomsky said.
Lee, as he held back tears, agreed.
"I feel like I've let my family down," he said. "I've let the American troops down by being selfish."