Political Fundraiser Rezko Gets 10 1/2 Years
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UPDATED 11/22/11 9:34 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Antoin “Tony” Rezko, a top adviser and fundraiser for deposed Gov. Rod Blagojevich, has been sentenced to 10 1/2 in prison, a full three years after he was convicted on corruption charges.
Rezko was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve Tuesday morning. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of 10 1/2 years and 10 years, as well as three years’ probation.
He will get credit for time served, which means he will be out of prison in about seven years.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports that Rezko’s wife, children and at least a dozen family members were in the courtroom when St. Eve handed down the sentence. One of Rezko’s daughters burst into tears.
Some family members shouted “we love you” as he was led away by federal marshals.
In handing down such a stiff sentence for Rezko, St. Eve’s attention was focused on a letter Rezko wrote her a few years ago, in which he said he’d never committed an offense and said over-zealous prosecutors were pressuring him to say things about a crime that never occurred.
The judge said that lack of responsibility hurt Rezko’s credibility and his character.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the sentence also sent a message that “enough is enough with corruption in Illinois.”
Rezko was found guilty by a federal jury in June 2008 of squeezing millions of dollars from firms for the privilege of state business. Jurors convicted him of fraud, money laundering and attempting to get millions of dollars in kickbacks from firms trying to do business with the state of Illinois.
At the time of those crimes, Rezko was serving as a top adviser and fundraiser to Blagojevich, who was still serving as governor back then.
Rezko was found guilty on 16 counts, including fraud, bribery and money laundering.
Defense attorneys said they found the 10 1/2-year sentence unfair, especially for a private citizen.
“The message, I think, and the punishment should go to the public officials who have abused the public trust,” said Rezko’s attorney, Joseph Duffy.
Duffy also said he found Rezko’s sentence hard to understand, given that Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, Alonzo “Lon” Monk got 24 months in a plea deal with prosecutors, even though he was a public official who should have been held to a higher standard.
“Anything that Tony Rezko did involving the state of Illinois was done with the direction and permission of the governor and his chief of staff, Lon Monk,” Duffy said. “I cannot reconcile how Lon Monk, the chief of staff of the governor, who was the one who directed and controlled Tony Rezko’s activities – can receive a sentence of 24 months in jail and Tony Rezko, the private citizen gets 10 1/2 (years) in jail.”
But Fitzgerald said that Rezko had no one to blame but himself for his stiff sentence, pointing out Rezko didn’t cooperate until after he was convicted at trial and, even then, lied to prosecutors in his initial briefings.
“The lesson for Mr. Rezko is … one, don’t commit that crime in the first place, but two, if you’re going to come in and cooperate, cooperate fully and honestly from day one and things would have been better,” Fitzgerald said. “Don’t come in here and just say you felt sorry after you get caught. … If you commit the crime and it’s a serious crime – as it was – you’ll get a very serious sentence.”
Fitzgerald also shrugged off any suggestions that Rezko’s actions were controlled by Monk and Blagojevich.
“I’m not aware of a mind meld,” Fitzgerald said. “There are lots of knowing, intelligent human beings making a conscious choice to break the law to enrich themselves sitting in a room … each person was accountable for their own conduct and to turn around and say I’m going to blame somebody else doesn’t excuse what happened.”
Rezko stood before St. Eve in prison clothes during his sentencing hearing, a shadow of his former self. He told the judge, “I deeply regret my conduct in the years prior to my indictment. I take full responsibility for my actions.”
But St. Eve indicated his expression of remorse was too late, telling Rezko he’d been in a unique position of power as Blagojevich’s trusted fundraiser and confidant and he abused it.
“Your selfish and corrupt actions negatively impacted the trust people have in the state of Illinois,” St. Eve said.
In an unusual move, Rezko voluntarily went to jail right away after being convicted, and also immediately began cooperating with federal authorities.
But Rezko’s sentencing was delayed because of the chance he would be called as a witness in other key trials, including Blagojevich’s first trial last year, which ended with the jury deadlocked on all but one count, and his retrial this year, in which the former governor was convicted of 17 counts for which he is himself now awaiting sentencing next month.
But Rezko was never called as a witness. Prosecutors have said this was because in meeting with Rezko multiple times, he never fully told the truth about his own wrongdoing until being confronted with new information by law enforcement agents, and a jury would never have believed him.
They said for someone who committed only white-collar crimes, Rezko has had to deal with harsher conditions than others behind bars.
He was originally held under solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown, but was later moved to the special housing unit of a county jail in Wisconsin.
But prosecutors sought a longer sentence of 11 to 15 years, in large part because, they say, he withheld information and lied during their investigation.
In a separate case, Rezko pleaded guilty to wire fraud in October 2010. He still faces sentencing for that conviction.
Former Blagojevich chief of staff Alonzo “Lon” Monk will serve two years in prison for his part in the schemes.
Blagojevich himself is scheduled to be sentenced next month. Prosecutors have indicated they might ask for an even stiffer sentence for Blagojevich than they got for Rezko.
“I’m not here today to comment on Mr. Blagojevich’s sentence,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ll make our appropriate comments in writing, as will the defense, next week.”
But the former governor’s defense attorney, Aaron Goldstein, said, “it is our opinion that a sentence anywhere near Mr. Rezko is completely unwarranted. We intend on making a compelling case for probation.”
Blagojevich’s sentencing, scheduled to begin on Dec. 6, could take as long as two days.