Disgraced Rep. Vito Fossella had more than two times the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream when he was arrested for drunk-driving on early Thursday morning in Virginia — and the six-term congressman is facing a mandatory sentence of five days in the slammer.
On Friday afternoon, Fossella (R–Bay Ridge) made a second attempt to apologize to constituents at a hastily called press conference at a hotel on Staten Island, which is also part of Fossella’s district.
“I know better than to get behind the wheel of a car even after only one drink,” he told a crowd of reporters — as well as two-dozen family members and friends on hand to lend their support.
“I made an error in judgment,” he added.
Fossella, who appeared haggard and with bloodshot eyes in a police mugshot, said he would not resign. But one of his two Democratic challengers, Steve Harrison, said he intended to make the arrest an issue before the November election.
“Driving while intoxicated is a very serious charge,” Harrison said. “As elected officials and potential elected officials we have an obligation to set an example for society. Lawmakers cannot expect the people to follow the laws if they themselves disregard them.”
The other would-be congressman, Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island), declined to comment.
On Friday, a Fossella staffer offered new details about hours leading up to the congressman’s 12:15 am Thursday arrest in the Washington, DC suburb: Earlier in the day, Fossella had been at the White House as part of the New York Giants meet-and-greet with President Bush. The celebration continued at a District of Columbia restaurant, where the congressman and visitors from Staten Island began drinking.
Fossella then left the restaurant and drove — alone — to Virginia, where cops pulled him over.
After assessing his condition, cops arrested him, according to Alexandria city prosecutor Randy Sengel. A blood-alcohol test conducted roughly two hours later registered .17 percent in the congressman’s bloodstream — more than twice Virginia’s .08 criminal threshold, Sengel added.
At the press conference on Friday, Fossella would not answer questions about how much alcohol he had consumed or whether he believed he had a problem with drinking.
He would also not say why he was in Virginia — though he will return to the commonwealth for his next court appearance on May 12.
A trial could take place within 60 days, Sengel said. Fossella would spend five days in jail if convicted — but only if the court accepts the .17 blood-alcohol reading.
“We don’t plea bargain on drunk driving,” Sengel said. “But sometimes, the court chooses to disregard the blood-alcohol report on a technicality.”
Sengel did not believe Fossella would get hit with Virginia’s maximum punishment for the DUI offense: one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Hours after his arrest, Fossella offered his first contrite statement, saying, “I apologize to my family and constituents … for embarrassing them, as well as myself.”
In Staten Island, those words were well received by the congressman’s friends.
“If you knew the person, you’d know he’s a great guy,” said Frank Rappocciuolo, a friend of the family. “He does great things for Staten Island and part of Brooklyn.”
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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