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Ex Mayoral aid John Forbes walks

An ex-aide to Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday walked out of federal court in Boston a free man, spared a lengthy prison sentence for peddling painkillers and cocaine after swaying a judge that he has turned his life around and plans to help other addicts do the same.

“For 10 years, I was under the power of addiction,” John M. Forbes, who faced up to 20 years behind bars, told Judge Richard G. Stearns at his U.S. District Court sentencing. “I used to say to my wife, ‘When will this end?’  I had been living this double life for 10 years.”

It ended Dec. 16, 2009, when authorities busted Forbes, 31, the former East Boston liaison for City Hall and a rising star in Menino’s cadre of community coordinators, for selling 125 OxyContin pills in his Eastie home and attempting to sell 10 ounces of cocaine in a separate undercover buy.

The judge sentenced Forbes to five years’ probation and 1,800 hours of community service.

“From the very beginning, I took it as my second chance. … This was the best thing that ever happened in my life,” Forbes said of getting arrested and later being sent to rehab where, according to his counselors, he became sober and a leader to others struggling with addiction.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey M. Cohen asked Stearns to send Forbes to prison for 51 months, the same sentence that his co-defendant, Lawrence R. Taylor, 61, of Swampscott, received.

Cohen argued that Forbes violated the public’s trust by pushing OxyContin in his own neighborhood — brazenly selling it from his kitchen, in front of his two kids — and then refused to cooperate with authorities.

“This drug is a plague to East Boston,” Cohen said. “His role was to represent City Hall in East Boston, and on the side he was moonlighting as a drug dealer.”

But Forbes’s attorney Rosemary Scapicchio argued for probation, saying her client “can be a source of hope for others” after becoming clean and an inspiration at Stepping Stone, the Fall River clinic where he spent 128 days in drug treatment last year.