PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — After tearfully declaring himself a disgrace, former Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison for corruption, saying he had been driven by greed, a desire to keep up with the Joneses and "just plain stupidity."
The sentencing brings to a close the federal investigation into a man once considered the most powerful person in state government. He represented Providence for 11 terms in the House and became the nation's first openly gay House speaker in 2010.
Crying, Fox apologized to his family, friends and to the state when he addressed the court. He described himself as a "lawbreaker, a disappointment and a disgrace, quite frankly."
"I accept full responsibility for my actions. No excuses, no justifications," the Democrat said. "I committed illegal acts and I'm very sorry for it."
Fox, 53, pleaded guilty in March to charges of bribery, wire fraud and filing a false tax return. He acknowledged taking more than $50,000 in bribe money from a Providence restaurant when he was a member of the city board of licenses and admitted he took more than $100,000 from his campaign account for his own use.
Fox said he grew up poor, became the first in his family to go to college and obtained a law degree. Later, he cared for his elderly mother.
"People put a lot of faith in me," he said. "I terribly destroyed that."
Fox spent his entire career as a lawyer and lawmaker, and his work in the General Assembly became his main career — even though the position pays little, said Fox's lawyer, William Murphy, who preceded him as House speaker.
He stepped down as speaker the day after a dramatic raid on his Statehouse office in March 2014 but remained in his seat until his term expired in January.
Fox said Thursday that he was driven by "greed, keeping up with the Joneses, just plain stupidity." He said he got himself in a bad financial situation and didn't know how to get out of it.
Fox made less than $73,000 per year on average from his modest solo law practice but had a mortgage of $3,800 per month and bought a $50,000 Audi soon after he arranged the $52,500 bribe, according to federal prosecutors. Still, he was left with a monthly car payment of more than $800.
Prosecutors also said that from 2011 to 2013, neither Fox nor his husband made a single cash withdrawal from a bank teller or ATM, indicating he had a different source of cash.
As bills mounted, Fox said, and "it became very easy to push a button" and transfer money from his campaign account. It wasn't one $100,000 transfer, Fox said, "it was bit by bit by bit by bit."
Fox said he didn't accept any other bribes.
Current House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said, "This closes an unfortunate chapter in our state's history and I trust that justice was served."
"I am focused on moving our state forward in a positive direction," he said in a statement. "After he pays his debt to society, I wish he and his family well."
Prosecutors and Fox each agreed to request a three-year term as part of a plea deal.
U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi on Thursday called it "an appropriate, fair and just sentence." She ordered him to pay $109,000 in restitution to his campaign account.
In dozens of letters sent to the court before the sentencing, the predominant feelings expressed were betrayal but also praise for "an intelligent, compassionate, hardworking individual who did good," Lisi said.
"It's hard to reconcile who Gordon Fox is," she said.
The morning FBI agents appeared at Fox's house, Fox immediately acknowledged he had taken campaign money, showed them where his financial records were and resigned as speaker the next day, Murphy said.
Fox thanked the agents Thursday for starting what he now recognizes "is a long and arduous road to healing." He said he would wear his crimes "as a crimson letter."
Fox must surrender by July 7.