Liberty sentenced to four months for illegal campaign contributions

Michael Liberty 

PORTLAND — Gray native Michael Liberty was sentenced in U.S. District Court on Wednesday to four months in prison after previously pleading guilty to illegally making political contributions to a presidential campaign.

Extensive testimony from friends and family about his character and a brief, emotional statement in court from Liberty himself were not enough to sway Judge D. Brock Hornby from sentencing the developer and philanthropist to jail time.

Liberty was also ordered to pay a fine of $100,000 and will have one year of supervised release after his incarceration as part of his sentence — all stemming from a 2011 arrangement in which Liberty admits he reimbursed family members and friends for their contributions to the presidential campaign at that time totaling $22,500.

Liberty, 56, pleaded guilty in November 2016 to the felony charge of making political contributions in the name of others and was originally scheduled for sentencing in June. However, he was granted a delay after injuries from a fall prevented him from traveling to Maine from Florida, where he now lives.

Liberty addressed the judge briefly before being sentenced.

“Your Honor, I’m deeply sorry for what happened,” he said.

“It’s very painful for me to be here today,” Liberty continued, referencing his many friends and family present in the courtroom. “I have no one to blame but myself, and I have no excuses.”

Liberty, who grew up in Gray with little means, had a series of small businesses, including a sandwhich cart, before becoming one of Portland’s biggest developers in the 1980s.

In a sentencing memo arguing that Liberty shouldn’t receive jail time, his lawyers pointed to his creation and continued financial support of the Gray-based Liberty Family Foundation.

“The Liberty Family Foundation was established and funded solely by Michael as a mechanism for him to give back to his community, as well as help those in need locally, nationally, and throughout the world,” Liberty’s cousin Stanley Liberty says in the memo. Stanley Liberty is the foundation’s current director, according to the organization’s website.

Over the course of Wednesday’s hearing, Philadelphia-based defense attorney Richard Zack brought several people with close ties to Liberty before the judge to highlight Liberty’s acts of generosity throughout the years.

Abate Reta, an Ethiopian immigrant who lives in Atlanta, detailed how Liberty helped him to grow his small limousine business – which Reta eventually renamed “Liberty Limousine” – and continued to offer financial support when Reta was diagnosed with cancer and when his children looked to further their educations.

George Denney, the founder of shoe manufacturer Cole Haan and longtime Liberty friend and investor, said that Liberty is a “man of incredible integrity” who is “always mindful of trying to help other people.”

In his remarks before sentencing Liberty, Hornby said that “there’s no question that (Liberty) has an amazing success story” and recognized his “generosity” to family, friends, and various communities.

“But good works do not result in a free pass,” Hornby continued, saying that Liberty’s crime “taints the integrity of our election process.”

The prosecution also argued that the judge was “not sentencing him today for the good things he has done in his life.”

Hornby said that various factors surrounding Liberty’s crime “call for a punishment that stings.”

Liberty will be allowed to self-report to a yet-to-be determined prison on Friday, Sept. 8. Hornby said that location will be decided by the Bureau of Prisons.

The judge also acknowledged that while the courtroom was filled with supporters, Liberty has also seen his share of “less positive” references over the years.

“Those are for other forums and other days,” Hornby said.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Donald Clark argued for the prosecution that Liberty’s reputation is “neither singular nor undisputedly good,” saying that not all of his entrepreneurial ventures ended well for investors and pointed to issues that Liberty has had with with Securities and Exchange Commission.

The competing narratives offer a complex picture of a man who was once dubbed “Donald Trump with a Maine accent” in a decades-old Yankee Magazine profile, which details how his brash style as a developer won him both defenders and detractors.

His friend Alexander “Sandy” Tennant, who also spoke before the judge Wednesday, acknowledged the differing views of Liberty in his remarks defending him.

“In life, there’s three sides to every story: your side, their side, and the truth.” Tennant said.

Michael Liberty

Gray native Michael Liberty left the U.S. District Court in Portland Wednesday through a back exit after being sentenced to four months in prison for making illegal campaign contributions.