Bloomberg News

Ex-Obama Fundraiser Antoin Rezko Sentenced to 10 1/2 Years

November 23, 2011

(Updates with Rezko comment in third paragraph.)

Nov. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Antoin “Tony” Rezko, the former campaign fundraiser for President Barack Obama and ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, was sentenced to 10 1/2 years in prison for his role in a kickback scheme.

Rezko, 56, an investor in restaurant chains and a developer of low-income real estate, was found guilty by a jury of plotting with a Chicago-area businessman serving on two state boards to take millions of dollars from firms doing business with Illinois.

“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Rezko said today before he was sentenced before U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve in Chicago.

“There are no words to describe the pain and regret” that Rezko said he had caused his wife, children and extended family.

“The sentence will send a message that enough is enough,” St. Eve said, adding that public corruption in the state must end.

“Your selfish and corrupt actions negatively impacted the trust of the citizens of Illinois in their government,” St. Eve told Rezko before sentencing.

Rezko, who has been in prison since late January 2008, will get credit for the time he served. The judge said the amount of intended losses from his schemes exceeded $9.6 million.

Rezko’s four-month trial began in March 2008 at the height of the presidential primary season that saw Obama -- then a U.S. senator from Illinois -- win the Democratic party’s nomination for president over then-U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Senate Campaigns

The Syrian-born Rezko had raised money for Obama’s U.S. and Illinois state senate campaigns and collected more than $1.4 million for then-Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was indicted on corruption charges six months later.

While Obama was mentioned several times during Rezko’s trial, he was never accused of any wrongdoing. Money Rezko raised for Obama’s presidential campaign was donated to charity, according to Bill Burton, then a campaign spokesman.

A federal jury in June 2008 convicted Rezko of six counts of mail fraud, six counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering and two counts of abetting bribery.

He was acquitted on eight counts, including a charge that he tried to extort as much as $2 million from Thomas Rosenberg, the founder of Lakeshore Entertainment Group and a former Capri Capital principal. Rosenberg testified against him at trial.

Finders’ Fees

Co-conspirator Stuart Levine, who had already pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering, was the chief prosecution witness. Levine had served on the state Teachers Retirement System board and on a panel responsible for issuing hospital construction permits.

Prosecutors said Rezko and Levine devised a “pay-to-play” system under which investment firms seeking to do business with the teachers’ pension plan would have to pay unearned finders’ fees to people designated by Levine and Rezko.

The men were also accused of seeking bribes from people who would profit from the granting of new hospital construction contracts.

Rezko has been in federal custody since January 2008, when St. Eve declared him a flight risk and revoked his $2 million bail.

Prosecutors this month asked the judge to sentence Rezko to 11 to 15 years in prison, citing his guilty plea in a separate case in which he had been accused of defrauding General Electric Capital Corp.

While Rezko hasn’t yet been punished in that case, prosecutors said they would seek the same sanction.

Cooperated

Defense lawyers had said their client should be sentenced to the time he has already served, claiming his cooperation helped the U.S. successfully prosecute other defendants, including the former governor. Rezko didn’t testify against Blagojevich, who was tried twice.

“The government agrees that it asked Rezko to delay his sentencing for nearly four years, during which time Rezko has not had a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunlight, or a hug from a loved one,” his attorneys said in a Nov. 18 filing. “Yet it now urges the court not even to consider the conditions of Rezko’s confinement in determining a just sentence.”

Good Behavior

Thin and balding, Rezko appeared in court today dressed in a loose-fitting blue shirt and khaki pants. Noting his post- conviction bankruptcy and good behavior while in jail, defense lawyer Joseph Duffy asked the judge for leniency.

“He will never again be in a position to engage in similar conduct,” Duffy said.

Pressing the government’s argument for a longer sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner described Rezko as part of a corrupt cabal that also involved Blagojevich and other close associates of the governor.

“It’s not a one-time mistake,” the prosecutor said of Rezko’s conduct. “It was a plan. Illinois was for sale.”

Blagojevich was convicted on 17 of 20 counts this year after his second corruption trial. He was found guilty of trying to trade his power to appoint a senator to replace Obama for campaign cash or personal favors. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 6.

The case is U.S. v. Levine, 05cr691, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

--Editors: Andrew Dunn, Mary Romano

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.


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