The judge said he couldn't believe the sentence he was imposing. A "gift," he called it - three months' house arrest and six years' probation for a former Philadelphia police officer who took $5,000 and skipped court so a man he arrested on gun charges could skate free.
"It was an honest mistake, but the worst decision I ever made," Jonathan Lazarde said Thursday before his sentencing by Common Pleas Court Judge Robert P. Coleman.
The judge seemed surprised by the statement and, before sentencing Lazarde, seemed to be reconsidering. Coleman told defense attorney Jack McMahon, "I'm still stuck on 'honest mistake.' "
McMahon argued that Lazarde had pleaded guilty and was sorry for what he did: "Don't hold against him a poor choice of words that were not that articulate."
Rubbing his head, Coleman sighed and sentenced Lazarde. Coleman also ordered 100 hours of community service each year of Lazarde's probation.
Lazarde, 28, resigned last April after almost six years of duty. One month later, the officer, who had been assigned to the 35th District in the Olney area, was arrested after city prosecutors alleged that he offered to skip a court appearance for the gun defendant, guaranteeing acquittal.
The man contacted authorities, who monitored a meeting in which the man met Lazarde and handed him $5,000 in cash.
The officer was stopped by Internal Affairs officers as he left the meeting. Police said Lazarde's hands and pants pocket tested positive for an ultraviolent dye with which police treated the money before the meeting.
Lazarde - the son of a retired city police officer, and married with four children and a fifth on the way - pleaded guilty in January to a count of using a communication device, his phone, to commit a crime. The District Attorney's Office dropped bribery and extortion charges.
Assistant District Attorney Frank Fina told the judge that Lazarde's conduct "was a serious matter" but said he did not object to Lazarde serving his sentence on house arrest because his position as a former police officer might put him in danger in prison.
Coleman said conduct like Lazarde's tarnished the reputation of the department and makes prosecuting criminals more difficult.
"I've had two trials where I considered there was overwhelming evidence of guilt and the verdicts were not guilty," Coleman said. "The only argument they had was the police had to be lying."