Tony Rezko Sentenced To 10 1/2 Years: Former Blagojevich Fundraiser Convicted Of Corruption
CHICAGO (AP) — A former top fundraiser for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich, convicted of pressuring firms for kickbacks as part of a political pay-to-play scheme, was sentenced Tuesday to 10 1/2 years in prison but will get credit for time served.
Antoin "Tony" Rezko spent 3 1/2 years in custody awaiting sentencing on his 2008 convictions for fraud, money laundering and plotting to squeeze $7 million in kickbacks from companies that wanted to do business with the state during Blagojevich's tenure
Attorneys for the former Chicago real estate developer and fast-food entrepreneur had asked that he be set free, arguing that he had served more time than others who were convicted as part of the federal investigation of Blagojevich have or are expected to.
But U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve told Rezko that his "selfish and corrupt actions" had damaged the trust people have in their government.
"You defrauded the people of Illinois, you engaged in extensive corruption throughout the state of Illinois," the judge said, adding that she hoped other politicians would take note of the penalty for corruption.
"This sentence must send a message that enough is enough," she said.
Rezko asked St. Eve for mercy and apologized to the court, his friends and family.
"I deeply regret my conduct," he said. "I take full responsibility for my actions."
Rezko told the judge his brother, sister and favorite cousin passed away during his incarceration, and no punishment could be greater than the guilt he feels for not being with them when they were dying.
A gaunt Rezko, clad in a prison uniform and shackled at the ankles, bore little resemblance to the robust millionaire whose trial was held more than three years ago, a transformation even St. Eve mentioned.
"Just looking at you physically is evidence of the great fall that you have had," she said to Rezko, who stood before her with his arms crossed.
Rezko showed no initial reaction when the sentence was handed down, but several relatives began crying. As he was led out of the courtroom, family members called out, "We love you," and "You're the best."
Defense attorney Joe Duffy called the sentence disappointing but said he was not sure yet about appealing.
"We think this sentence is harsh. I understand why the judge wants to send a message, and a message should be sent to the community," he said, but added that the message and punishment "should go to the public officials who have abused the public trust."
Prosecutors had asked that Rezko get between 11 and 15 years, and said prisoners generally serve 85 percent of their full sentences.
U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called Rezko sentence "stiff and appropriate." He said it is unusual to see such a long sentence for corruption and said it appeared the sentences are getting longer.
He would not say what he thought Rezko's penalty might mean for Blagojevich's sentence.
The former governor is set to be sentenced next month and had been expected to get about 10 years. He was convicted this year on charges that included trying to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.
Rezko, 56, also was a political fundraiser for Obama during his campaigns for Illinois senator, though not for his presidential campaign. Obama has not been accused of wrongdoing in the case, but his relationship with Rezko became an issue during the 2008 election.
Rezko's sentencing was delayed after he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating Blagojevich and others. He also offered to testify at the corruption trials of Blagojevich and millionaire businessman William Cellini, who was convicted Nov. 1 of conspiring with Rezko and others to shake down the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby."
But the government said he ultimately did not yield any useful information, and prosecutors said they eventually concluded Rezko's persistent lies long after he was charged would have made him a vulnerable, ineffective witness.
St. Eve noted he had even lied to her, once insisting in a letter that prosecutors were "overzealous" and trying to get him to make up allegations about Blagojevich that weren't true. In the letter, he also said he had never engaged in illegal conduct with Blagojevich, she said.
Rezko's lawyers had offered a picture of the Syrian immigrant as an eager philanthropist who was "shocked" by Blagojevich's proposed brainstorming on ways to profit from his gubernatorial decisions.
Duffy also noted Rezko's anonymous contributions to his church, his participation on charity boards and his financial support to relatives.
The government countered that his generosity came at taxpayers' expense as he schemed with Blagojevich and others to put the state up for sale.
Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner again described Rezko standing before the then-governor and other confidants at an office chalkboard, diagramming various scams.
During Rezko's trial, prosecutors said he raised over $1 million for Blagojevich and got so much clout in return he could control two powerful state boards. They accused him of plotting with admitted political fixer Stuart Levine to squeeze payoffs from money management firms that sought to invest the assets of the $40 billion state Teachers Retirement System and said he plotted with Levine to get a $1.5 million bribe from a contractor who sought state approval to build a hospital.
Levine pleaded guilty and was the government's star witness at the Rezko and Cellini trials. Rezko's lawyers complained that, in exchange for Levine's cooperation, prosecutors had recommended a prison term of just 5 1/2 years. But prosecutors say Levine's cooperation with the government started sooner, lasted longer and reaped more dramatic results.
Rezko spent nine months in solitary confinement in the federal holding center in Chicago, rarely getting fresh air. After his lawyers complained, he was moved to the jail in Dodge County, which wasn't equipped to house him for so long. He's lost 80 pounds, according to a recent defense filing.