David Son was the linchpin. He facilitated the meetings, he supervised the cash drops and he set up the votes. Without him, prosecutors say, there wouldn’t have been a cash-for-votes scheme that yet again put Prince George’s County in the center of a corruption scandal.
At his sentencing hearing in federal court Thursday, the former director of the Prince George's County liquor board owned up to his wrongdoings — including upending the ongoing investigation by tipping off others being scrutinized by the FBI — saying his actions were egregious and embarrassing.
“I knew I messed up in a huge way,” said Son, before a judge sentenced him to five years in prison for a bribery scheme that involved payoffs to politicians in exchange for help with legislation that would expand liquor sales in the county.
Son, 42, of Bowie, pleaded guilty to bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice last year. In addition to facilitating bribes to elected officials, Son also skimmed more than $86,000 in payments for himself over about five years starting in 2012.
Seven others have pleaded guilty or were convicted in the federal probe, including former Prince George’s County Council member and Maryland delegate William A. Campos (D) and former delegate Michael L. Vaughn (D).
“He brings in the buyers, he brings in the sellers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom said of Son. “There’s no cash for votes without Mr. Son.”
Son was the reason the conspiracy started, but he also was eventually why the government’s investigation into the wide-reaching scheme ended, prosecutors said. Son had initially agreed to work as a government informant after the FBI confronted him with his wrongdoing. But the investigation ended abruptly after he tipped off people being investigated about the probe, including one person who fled the country and has escaped prosecution, the government said.
Son wrote a letter to an investigative target, warning the person he had been “taken” by the “Feds” and was “wired,” according to his plea agreement. The letter also included information on others the FBI was monitoring and others who were cooperating with the government.
Though Son received the stiffest sentence so far of the eight people arrested in what federal investigators called “Operation Dry Saloon,” it was a year short of the six-year sentencing the government had requested.
Son spent nearly 10 minutes in court talking about his work at a service station, moonlighting as a Lyft driver, going to church and volunteering as a way to make a difference borne of his remorse. He also talked about how he went into his family’s garage and stepped into his car in an attempt to take his own life after his arrest, but stopped when he heard his newborn daughter’s cries.
“I feel this pain every day,” Son said. “I have nightmares about this every day.”
U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis said Son’s crimes were in many ways the most severe of those in the broad investigation, but Son’s transformation after his arrest has also been the most dramatic. She praised Son for taking ownership of his serious offenses instead of minimizing them as actions that were “foolish” or a “mistake.”
Last week, Xinis expressed frustration at Campos’s sentencing, saying his attorneys engaged in a “consistent and persistent minimization” of the former councilman’s actions.
The crimes of “others weren’t as egregious,” Xinis said to Son, “but neither was their acceptance” of what they had done when it came to explain themselves at sentencing.
Son’s attorney, Edward T. Kang, said he respects the court’s sentence.
“As demonstrated at today’s hearing, Mr. Son has fully accepted responsibility for his conduct,” Kang said. “He looks forward to continuing his path towards rehabilitation and returning to being a productive member of society.”
In the related cases, a jury convicted Vaughn of conspiracy and bribery in March for taking more than $100,000 from liquor store owners in exchange for votes on legislation to expand Sunday liquor sales. Campos was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for taking more than $40,000 in kickbacks. Campos funneled government money dedicated to nonprofits to those who agreed to pay him and accepted bribes to perform other official acts, the government said.