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Hudson County Corruption in the Kenny Era
Congressman Cornelius Gallagher

Originally appeared in Tiger In The Court
By Paul Hoffman

Hudson County Politics

Until six months before, he had been a United States congressman, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, widely recognized as an expert on the Far East and hailed by many as a champion of civil liberties. Nine years before, Lyndon Johnson had considered him as a possible vice-presidential running mate. At 53, his yellow hair showed streaks of white, but his pink face still had the cherubic look of an altar boy. But it was not the deed of an altar boy that had brought him before the bar of justice. Cornelius E. Gallagher had pleaded guilty to evading $78,000 in income taxes and stood before federal district judge Leonard I. Garth not as a member of a coequal branch of government but as a supplicant pleading for mercy.

He peered through metal-rimmed glasses at the notes he'd scrawled on sheets of a yellow legal pad and reviewed his life aloud-starting with his boyhood days as a bootblack on the streets of Bayonne to working his way through college and law school, to combat service in World War Two and recall to active duty during Korea, to his rise in politics from Hudson County freeholder to state highway commissioner to seven terms in Congress, and finally to the first disclosure by Life magazine that all was not legitimate in the career of Cornelius E. Gallagher and the years of investigation by the Internal Revenue Service.

"I was a prisoner without chains for nearly six years," he insisted.

For an hour and 17 minutes he ran on, rambling, repeating, at times almost lapsing into incoherence, except perhaps to those thoroughly familiar with the minute details of his case.

Though he pleaded for mercy, he never truly admitted his guilt, and he again denounced those who had brought him to his present crisis. "I appeal to this court for leniency in sentence and ask for an opportunity to put my life back together without being put in an institution," he said. He begged Judge Garth for a "second chance" and, removing his glasses, turned toward his wife and four daughters seated in the rear of the tiny courtroom, his voice choking on a sob as he concluded, "I ask ... that I be allowed a period of redemption and renewal."

Judge Garth was not impressed. He said that his review of the record showed that a "custodial sentence" was indicated. He sentenced Gallagher to two years in prison and fined him $10,000. The sentence was relatively light; the fine was the maximum possible. He also found the congressman in contempt of court for a letter he had written in violation of a court order and fined him an additional $500.

It was Friday afternoon. The defense attorney asked that the sentence be stayed so Gallagher could spend a last weekend with his family. Judge Garth was reluctant: "If you have an abscessed tooth, the best thing is to get it out fast." But he relented and gave Gallagher his freedom until 9:30 Monday morning.

The congressman showed up at the appointed hour and was led off to prison in handcuffs.

. . .


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