Congress

John Boehner among GOP allies urging leniency for Chris Collins

Sentencing hearing for former New York congressman is Jan. 17

Former Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., will be sentenced on Jan. 17. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Speaker John A. Boehner is among a robust contingent of Republicans who want a judge to give convicted former Rep. Chris Collins a break on prison time.

The requests for leniency say the New York Republican is a dedicated public servant, father and friend. But the attempt from current and former GOP lawmakers runs contrary to calls from Collins’ former constituents in the 27th Congressional District of New York who say he deserves the maximum penalty for an egregious breach of the public’s trust.

Collins will be sentenced Jan. 17 in New York City for his guilty pleas on an insider trading charge and for making false statements to the FBI. Although sentencing guidelines call for Collins to serve anywhere from 46-to-57 months in federal prison, his lawyers argue the 69-year-old should not go to jail, but instead be subject to probation with conditions of a significant house arrest term and extensive community service, along with a substantial fine.

The U.S. Probation Office recommended Collins spend one year and one day in jail, a supervised release term and a $200,000 fine. Judge Vernon S. Broderick of the Southern District of New York  will ultimately decide how much time Collins spends in prison.

Along with his family, several members of Congress wrote supportive letters addressed to Broderick, lauding Collins’ integrity and character.

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 27 - Outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, shows emotion during his last weekly press conference of his tenure as Speaker, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, October 27, 2015. House GOP leaders are trying to pass a two-year budget deal before Boehner resigns on Thursday, October 29, 2015. Although conservatives are trying to intervene, Boehner is relying on Democratic support to pass the bill. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Former Speaker  John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is one of Collins' neighbors in Florida, wrote a letter of support to Judge Broderick on behalf of his former colleague. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Boehner wrote that Collins is not only a former colleague, but a friend and neighbor. The two have kept in contact since the Ohio Republican left Congress in 2015 and are neighbors on Marco Island in Florida. Boehner noted that Collins supported his speakership at a time when it wasn’t popular and at the risk of political repercussions. Boehner also describes Collins as a person of loyalty and courage.

“As human beings, we make mistakes and errors of judgment, and we have to accept the consequences that come with our mistakes and our errors of judgment,” Boehner wrote. “Chris, I believe, would be the first to agree with this. I write today simply in hopes of sharing my experience with Chris as a fellow American and friend.”

Collins served on the board of an Australian biotechnology company, Innate Immunotherapeutics and received privileged information that the company’s multiple sclerosis drug, MIS416, failed a critical drug trial. Collins was notified of the drug’s failure through an email when he was attending the Congressional Picnic at the White House. Collins subsequently notified his son, Cameron, of the confidential test results so he and others could unload their shares in Innate before the news became public and the stock plummeted. This allowed those Collins tipped off to avoid $768,000 in losses. Collins did not dump his own Innate stock and those shares declined by millions.

When Collins was indicted in August of 2018 he called the charges against him “meritless” and said he would put forth a “vigorous defense” to clear his name.

UNITED STATES - JUNE 24: Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., speaks during a press conference outside the Capitol with members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and members from the House Kentucky Delegation on the "Ratepayer Protection Act" on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., described Collins as a unique personality in his letter to Judge Broderick. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Billy Long described Collins as a friend who cared deeply for his constituents. Long also included a unique anecdote about Collins.

“My Great Uncle Paul Pickering lived in Kansas City and worked for the Kansas City Star for years. When Paul would run across someone who talked to excess, he would surmise that when they were a baby, they had been vaccinated with a Victrola needle,” the Missouri Republican wrote. “When I met Chris Collins, the first thing I thought of was Uncle Paul. I thought Paul would have said, ‘this guy must have been vaccinated with a Victrola needle.’ It was like he had Tourette Syndrome minus the cuss words.”

Reps. Peter T. King of New York, Brian Babin of Texas, Richard Hudson of North Carolina, Roger Williams of Texas, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, and Tom Reed of New York all wrote letters in support of Collins.

Others Republicans who wrote in on Collins’ behalf include former Reps. Jack Kingston of Georgia, Todd Rokita of Indiana, Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and Luke Messer of Indiana.

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 13: Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., arrives for the press conference announcing House GOP leadership for upcoming session of Congress on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Former Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., also wrote a letter of support on Collins' behalf. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

“Chris has a big personality. Without question, he is a talker. But, in my seven plus years of knowing Chris, my overriding impression of him was this: Chris is a good man, who loves his family and wants to make a difference for his country,” Messer wrote. “Chris Collins is a loyal friend. And, Chris Collins has experienced an extraordinary career of service as both a businessman and an elected office holder.”

Collins’ wife, Mary, penned a lengthy plea for mercy to Broderick, noting that Collins has always been an “awesome” father, grandfather, husband, brother and son to his family who makes them feel safe and secure.

“Our family has suffered terribly since the beginning of this ordeal. It has impacted all of us to an extent that is hard for others to fathom,” Mary wrote. “As a mother and wife, I find myself reduced often to uncontrollable tears. Chris has been so devastated and ashamed of his actions that he finds it hard to go back home to Buffalo, where my whole world is.”

“He has resigned from Congress and will always be known as the disgraced former Congressman who plead guilty to a felony,” she later wrote.

Innate’s CEO at the time of Collins’ crime, Simon Wilkinson, also wrote a letter for him.

“I was shocked to learn of the allegations made against Mr. Collins last year,” Wilkinson wrote. “Given Mr. Collins personal wealth, I can only think that he had something akin to a ‘brain explosion’ upon learning of the completely unexpected clinical trial result.”

Many who were represented by Collins in Congress don’t think he should get off easy for his criminal actions.

Eric and Virginia Baker say they feel betrayed by Collins and want him to repay his salary and relinquish his pension.

“We urge that in his sentencing, you recognize and consider this egregious fraud on the people of the NY 27th Congressional District and the American taxpayers,” the Bakers wrote. “...we suggest that he also be required to repay his salary from the date of his indictment until his resignation and to forfeit his taxpayer pension. An example needs to be set that he is not above the law.”

Nathan McMurray, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Collins for his congressional seat in 2018, also called for Collins to pay back his salary from when he was indicted and forfeit his pension.

“A district has been denied its due representation in Congress; an individual of great promise, a fellow Eagle Scout no less, betrayed his constituents and will forever have his name tainted,” McMurray wrote of Collins.

Another constituent, Linda Stevens, wrote in opposition to leniency and that Collins lied to his district.

“I have never written a letter like this but I find it appalling on so many levels on what Mr. Collins has done to my district,” she wrote. “I feel duped and angry!”

Anna Burakowski, who lives in the 27th Congressional District, asked Broderick to impose the “stiffest sentence possible” on Collins.

“There were people who had money invested in this stock and lost their money,” Burakowski wrote. “His insider trading is a crime, period!”

Todd Ruger contributed to this report.

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