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Prior to sentencing, letters of support for ex- Rep. Chris Collins

Letters asking for mercy, including one from former House Speaker Boehner, filed with the court for former congressman who admitted criminal charges.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Former Western New York Congressman Chris Collins, who in October pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and making a false statement to the FBI, is due to be sentenced for his crimes on Friday January 17.   

According to his wife, Collins has become "deeply depressed" and "has been torturing himself over a horrible failure on his part."

Collins was accused of illegally leaking confidential information about a bio-pharmaceutical company to his son and the father of his son's fiancée. This resulted in criminal charges against the pair as well, and according to Mary Collins "Chris now has to live with the fact that Cameron has a felony conviction that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Nothing could be worse for a caring, loving Dad who always tried to steer Cameron to success and be a positive role model." 

Collins' son, Cameron, also plead guilty as did his future father in law Stephen Zarsky.

Collins' lawyers have filed several letters with the court, written on behalf of Collins from family, friends, business associates and political colleagues asking U.S. District Court Judge Vernon Broderick for mercy as he considers sentencing.

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives John  Boehner is among those asking the judge to show leniency for Collins.

Family members' letters

Collin's wife of 31 years, Mary, wrote: " I write to you as a distraught mother and wife to ask you to be merciful as you decide the sentence of my husband Chris and son Cameron. As I am sure you can imagine, our family has been devastated by the consequences of Chris' completely out of character decisions."

In her letter to the judge, Collins' daughter, Caitlin, reveals that she was beset by a serious medical condition sometime after her father's arrest in August of 2018, however the court redacted portions of the letter identifying the specific malady.  The letter indicates, however, that her condition left her wheelchair-bound.

She writes: "After my diagnosis, my father was there for me in ways I never could have expected from him. He has always been an amazing father, but the support I have received from him since the diagnosis has been unwavering. In December 2018, I went to stay with my parents in Florida for a while so the could help me perform everyday tasks. My dad would begin each day by asking what I needed and what he could do for me. I could tell that it hurt his soul to see me that way, but he stayed strong and performed each helpful task as if it was nothing. He did his best to make me feel like I wasn't a burden, and for that I am eternally grateful."

Caitlin Collins wrote further that: "My relationship with my father has not always been perfect. Watching my father take responsibility for his mistakes has revealed a part of his character that was previously not visible to me. I hope that if I am ever tested, I can show the strength of character that he has demonstrated. I continue to be proud of the man my father has become. He is a great man."

Carly Coleman identifies herself as Collin's oldest daughter from his first marriage. She grew up outside the Collins' household but she says her father never forgot her and supported her.

"Before my first birthday, my mother, a NC native, moved from Buffalo, NY back to NC with me in tow.  My mother fought for sole custody of me. Chris Collins, my father, would not allow me to be removed from his life. There were plenty of obstacles in his way including the distance from NC to NY and the age of his baby daughter who needed detailed care and attention. He persevered as my stepdad challenged to adopt me. When I was in need, he gave without reserve. He was always interested in my successes and responsibilities, encouraging me to be a leader and to be the best human I could be. He never gave in to the distance of time and space and creatively turned the limited time we had together into exciting family traditions and experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise being raised by my mother and stepdad on school teacher's salaries."  

Collins' Brother also wrote to the judge, saying he was choosing his words carefully.

I have thought to myself "What would our Father think of Chris' actions and conviction?", wrote Edward (Ted) Collins. "I believe that Dad, like me, would be shocked by Chris' actions-it simply was completely out of character. In all the years I have known Chris he has exhibited nothing but honesty, hard work, and intelligence.  And that is what makes his actions so shocking and befuddling. He is smart enough to know that his actions would not be right and not be legal. Obeying the laws and being morally straight are key tenants and until now Chris always exhibited those words. I can't explain his behavior, but I can say with all sincerity that this was completely out of character. There is startling incongruence with the Chris I know and his actions in this case. I have never seen my brother as remorseful as he is now. In fact, I don't think remorse is a strong enough word. Chris is anguished about his actions and the impact they have had on his family, himself, and the community in general. He knows he made a huge mistake and he is disappointed in himself and shameful about his actions. "

Former House Speaker John Boehner Chimes in

In his letter, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner , who served with Collins and who is now a neighbor of his in Marco Island, Florida wrote:  "He is a person of loyalty, and courage. I know this experience has been mortifying for him. I continue to believe he is a good man who loves his family and his country. 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. Chris, I believe, would be the first to agree with this. "

Current Member  of Congress Peter King (R) NY-2nd wrote: While I have no personal knowledge of and have had no personal dealings with Chris Collins regarding any aspect of this case, I have known Chris for almost ten years.While I am in no way attempting to minimize the serious error in judgment to which Chris Collins has admitted, I would respectfully request that when imposing sentence Your Honor take into account his many positive contributions in public life and the genuine respect he has earned and the high regard in which he is held by those who have worked with him and know him well. 

U.S. Rep Tom Reed (R-Corning) also wrote a letter to the judge on Collins' behalf, stating, "Obviously ,justice must be served, and I am confident you will impose the level of sentence appropriate for this matter," before going on to make several laudatory statements regarding Collins' congressional service. Reed was one of roughly a dozen current or former members of Collins who sent the judge letters on his behalf. 

In his letter,  New York State Senator Micheal Ranzenhofer who remarked, "Chris Collins committed a very serious breach of the public's trust. I have not observed any similar activities over the last decade and believe the embarrassment and shame he brought upon himself and his family will live with him for the rest of his life."

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw also wrote a letter to the judge urging him to weigh the good deeds Collins performed over many years of public service.

"In this one instance that lasted six minutes, Chris did not do the right thing. He has accepted responsibility for his action, which is serious in the eyes of the law. I wholeheartedly understand the gravity of that one action. Now, judgment lies solely with you pertaining to sentencing. I respectfully ask you to reflect on a long life devoted to family, charitable· causes and public service, compared to one brief but serious error in judgment," Mychajliw said. 

Edward Cox, who was the chairman of the New York State Republican party for 10 years also wrote to the judge. While Cox did not ask for leniency on behalf of Collins, his letter indicated his belief that perhaps Collins has suffered enough already, concluding, "Crossing a criminal line whether intentional or not and harming his family in the impulsive criminal act has horrified Chris not just in the expected punishment or reputational damage but in his conservative core values. Beyond remorse, the question 'how could i have done that?' will haunt Chris for the rest of his life. 

Former Political Staffers support their ex Boss

Numerous people who worked for Collins, either when he was Erie County  Executive or a member of Congress, also wrote to the judge attesting to Collin's character and hard work on behalf of constituents.

Among them was Chris Grant, now a political consultant who successfully steered Collin's last re-election which came after Collins had been indicted. 

In his letter, Grant lauded Collin's efforts on behalf of the families of the victims of flight 3407 and his stewardship over helping the community recover after the tragic plane crash which claimed 50 lives in 2009 when Collins was County Executive.

Grant concluded his letter by stating, "Chris' failings are serious and he has taken responsibility for them publicly. With that has come, rightfully, the end of a political career that was once promising and successful and did much good for many people. As you consider sentencing, I respectfully ask that you weigh Chris' lifetime of helping others, building successful businesses and helping countless families, and the person he is when others have needed someone to help them. That's the true Chris Collins."    

Former Collins Critics Write Letters of Support

Political consultant Micheal Caputo ran the primary campaign for David Bellavia when Bellavia sought the republican nomination for congress in  a race eventually won by Collins.

"It was a spirited campaign, and I leveled harsh but fair criticisms of Mr. Collins," wrote Caputo, who said despite that Collins did not hold things against him. "I had several occasions to ask for his services as a constituent, and was hesitant to do so. I suspected he would ignore my requests, remembering our competition. I was wrong. It became abundantly clear to me that he looked past our differences and wanted to serve us as he would any other constituent. In today's visceral political climate, another person would leave our family without assistance. He did precisely the opposite, time after time. This prosecution has been difficult for his constituents to understand, but Mr. Collins made it clear to us that he's accepted his responsibility, apologized for his mistake, and is ready to pay a fair price for his crimes. I believe him. I respectfully urge your leniency as a person who learned first hand of Mr. Collins' devotion to his community and constituents, even his former competitors."

Noted Buffalo developer Rocco Termini has also chimed in on Collins' behalf.

"I wasn't a fan of Chris Collins; in fact I supported his opponent when he ran for Erie County Executive. But as a developer in Buffalo, New York, I thought it was important to put politics aside and work for the betterment of the community. Much to my surprise so did Chris Collins. His selfless dedication to the City of Buffalo helped rebuild a dying city. Selfless dedication is a rare quality in today's public servant. One mistake shouldn't over shadow all the good Chris has done for Buffalo, everyone makes mistakes."

From the Former CEO of Innate lmmunotherapeutics 

Innate lmmunotherapeutics is the Australian biotech company of which Collins was a director and the largest shareholder. It is also the company to which his downfall will be inexorably linked. 

The root of the criminal case against Collins was his disclosure to his son, and consequently others, that a drug being developed to fight multiple sclerosis had failed. When Collins shared the information, it prompted others who'd invested in the company to sell their stock and save themselves considerable money before the news became public and the stock price would inevitably plunge. 

Although he did not sell his own shares, resulting in a personal loss of approximately $17 million, Collins having tipped off his son who then tipped others to the news, amounted to a classic case of insider trading according to prosecutors.

"I believe he cared very deeply for the plight of these patients and he steadfastly believed that the Company's drug development efforts would ultimately lead to treatment breakthroughs for these patients," wrote Simon Wilkinson, who was Chief Executive Officer of Innate until June 2019, and who credited Collins with saving the company during previous financial struggles.

But like others, Wilkinson spoke of being dumbfounded by Collins' actions.

"I was shocked to learn of the allegations made against Mr Collins last year. 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. The financial loss to immediate members of his family arising from the trial failure were, I believe, easily within his financial resources to 'put right' by the simple act of buying back the shares at the original cost to the family members. In light of this and all my previous positive and straight up and down dealings with Mr Collins, I am at a complete loss to explain or understand why he did what he did. Subsequent to him recently pleading guilty, Mr Collins has written to me saying his actions were stupid, rash, and inexcusable. He said he was racked with emotion and not thinking straight. I think it is extremely sad and tragic that someone who has worked hard for his community and who has also significantly supported drug development for difficult to treat diseases, has made the mistakes that Mr Collins has made," Wilkinson said 

As well, Innate's former board chairman  wrote to the judge. Micheal Quinn asked for leniency for Collins by stating:  "may I request that you give consideration to Chris's terrible reversal of personal circumstances and weigh his natural emotional but erroneous response to bad news against his huge support of the company and the years of contribution to his upstate New York community. He has already paid a high price for his uncharacteristic single lapse of judgement. " 

WNY Business Leaders

Leaders of several  local businesses have also written letters to the judge in support of Collins. These include John R. Yurtchuk Chairman of Calspan, Gibralter Industries chairman Brian J. Lipke. Leaders of the Pike Company, Rand Capitol, and Northtown Automotive Group  also wrote letters on Collins' behalf.

Several letters came from partners in a variety of businesses owned by Collins over his lifetime.

Many insist that committing a criminal act was out of character for Collins and that they were left shocked by it.

One of his longtime friends and business partners, E. Ronald Graham, Chairman and CEO at Volland Electrical Equipment wrote: "I don't know the details of what happened with Chris and Innate Therapeutics. I do know that what he has pled to is completely out of character from my personal dealings with Chris. I suspect he must have panicked following receipt of bad news and acted to protect his son, like many imperfect human fathers would do in a similar situation. Chris has always been a good family man who has spent a large portion of his life helping others." 

#MeToo

Elizabeth Donatello was a sex crimes prosecutor in the Niagara County District Attorney's office  who ended up filing a sexual harassment suit against her former boss, Niagara County DA Anthony Violante.

Violante, who eventually resigned, was a republican like Collins.

But Donatello said Collins supported her even though it might have not been popular among his party brethren.

"Before the MeToo movement swept across America I was in my own Me Too moment. A moment that was painful, emotional and at times humiliating. Very few people wanted to be seen associating with me, including many in Chris' own political party, in his own district. But Chris, despite the potential political fallout, never wavered in his friendship or support."

Donatello continued, "In those moments I wasn't alone, I wasn't a public spectacle, instead I was surrounded by the warmth of friendship. I wasn't one of his large money donors, I wasn't a power broker or millionaire. Yet he did for me what I am certain he would have done for anyone friend or not; he supported me. In my case the politically and socially expedient thing for him to do would have been to distance himself from me publicly yet he didn't. And when the Me Too movement exploded Chris never tried to capitalize on his role in supporting me or trade on our friendship. "

Donatello also asked the judge to show leniency toward Collins.

"As my life settled down his and Mary's shattered. In the days following his arrest we spent a lot of time with them. He knew that in one horrible act he lost his life as he knew it, but worse for him, was what his family was subjected to because of his crime.  He is ashamed and remorseful beyond what I have the ability to express. Not just for the pain he caused his family but for the harm he did to others  As a retired prosecutor I know the seriousness of his crime, as someone who knows him well, I know his actions are not reflective of his true character."

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