Leighton Responds to Brace Letter Controversy

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Less than two weeks before the primary election, a state Senate candidate admits writing to help a convicted felon in the Luzerne County corruption scandal.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton wrote a letter to a federal judge on behalf of Bill Brace, the former Luzerne County official who last month, pleaded guilty to taking a bribe.

Leighton's letter remains in a defense lawyers hands. Its existence became public this weekend during a debate between the mayor and his opponent in the Democratic primary for the state Senate, John Yudichak.

During the debate, Yudichak asked Leighton if he wrote a letter to influence the decision on the sentence of Bill Brace.

"Yes I did. I wrote a character letter for a friend, Bill Brace," Leighton responded.

Brace is the former Wilkes-Barre city clerk and Luzerne County deputy clerk of courts who will soon serve time in a federal prison.

"I'm not a fair-weather friend. Someone was in need and I helped him," Leighton added.

Brace got in trouble, admitting he got an expensive, tailored suit from a contractor in exchange for help in getting a county contract. He pleaded guilty last month.

Before he was sentenced, Mayor Leighton wrote a letter to federal court Judge James Munley.

"A character letter that stated all he has done for this community," Leighton said. "It's to let a judge know the man has done a lot for the community. He may deserve a break."

Brace will pay a $10,000 fine and serve three months in a federal prison.

Leighton said he has no regrets about the letter, even if it costs him dearly in his state Senate campaign, even if it becomes an issue that takes the focus away his efforts to key on money issues effecting Pennsylvanians.

"And I'm running on my record," Leighton said.

When asked if he think the letter on behalf of a felon should be a campaign issue, the mayor said, "He admitted his guilt in court. He'll pay his debt to society and he'll come back into this community."

At his sentencing last month Brace's lawyer said he received roughly 60 letters of support, though Leighton is the only known public official.

A judge ordered Brace to begin serving his term May 18, ironically, election day.