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Going Through the Motions

Twanda Carlisle Follies

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This was supposed to be this column's very special holiday edition: City Hall's top turkeys. But instead we have to make it the very special conviction edition, after Twanda Carlisle threw in the towel on her fight against public-corruption charges.

On Nov. 13, Carlisle pleaded no contest to 17 charges alleging that she diverted nearly $43,000 in public money for her personal use and made false statements on campaign finance reports. She received the $43,000 via kickbacks from friends she paid as consultants with money earmarked for her office. She spent some of that taxpayer money on a mink coat and a trip to Las Vegas.

On Nov. 13, with the start of her trial just hours away, Carlisle sat in the front row of the gallery in Judge John Zottola's courtroom, a multi-page document in her lap. She read through the documents, checking boxes "yes" or "no" after each statement. After she finished the document, she handed it to her lawyer Patrick Thomassey, and sat by herself for some time, occasionally speaking to people who came up to wish her luck.

Sitting there alone, Carlisle was the picture of regret. But it soon became obvious that Carlisle wasn't sorry for what she had done. She was merely sorry that after she's sentenced in February, she's likely going to be incarcerated.

In a letter of resignation she sent to council, Carlisle wrote: "I am sure you are aware that through court proceedings my city salary has been frozen, leaving me with no income and financially stress[ed]. As much as I love working for the residents in the city of Pittsburgh I can not afford to continue to volunteer my services."

So had prosecutors not garnished her council paycheck, Carlisle might still be sitting at meetings. (Or not: Her attendance has always been a bit spotty.) Even her "no contest" plea allows her to avoid confessing guilt: The plea enables her to skip the trial and skip to the penalty phase, allowing her to complain throughout the process about how the media blew this all out of proportion.

District 9 will be better off without Carlisle's troubles hovering over it. It's not even clear how much work she has been doing since her legal problems began earlier this year. For example, Council President Doug Shields has been filling in for Carlisle, both as district representative and as chair of council's committee on housing and economic development.

On this week's council agenda, Shields is bringing six new bills out of the committee. Carlisle had produced just nine since Oct. 2. Her constituents have long complained that she has done little to help the troubled district -- which is why the Rev. Ricky Burgess, who will take the seat in January, crushed her in the May primary.

Carlisle's decision not to fight the charges came without a plea deal: Theoretically, she could face the maximum penalty of 85 years in prison when she is sentenced on Feb. 4. It's likely, though, that she'll get significantly less than that. Her attorney says that entering a no-contest plea without getting a sentencing recommendation was an act of taking responsibility. Plus, she'll be repaying the $43,000 from her city pension.

Yes, Twanda Carlisle will pay for her crimes. She just won't apologize for them.

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