Hailed by prosecutors as a "wake-up call," Antoin Rezko was sentenced to 10½ years in prison today for extorting millions of dollars from firms seeking state business or regulatory approval while he was a top fundraiser and adviser to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Rezko's daughter broke down sobbing as U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve handed down the sentence, telling Rezko 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 come to ask for God's forgiveness and the court's mercy.
"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.
Several family members called out 'we love you" as Rezko was led away.
"That's what an honest man deserves in this country!" one relative shouted outside the courtroom.
When others tried to quiet her, she said: "I don't care, put me in with him!"
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called St. Eve's decision a "stiff" but "appropriate sentence."
"I don't know how many times we've had sentences of 10 1/2 years" in public corruption cases, Fitzgerald said."“It's a bit of a wake-up call."
But Rezko’s lawyer, Joseph J. Duffy, called the judge's sentence "harsh."
"We're obviously very disappointed," Duffy said. "I understand why the judge wants to send a message. The message should be sent to the community, but the message. . .and punishment should go to the public officials who abuse the public trust."
Rezko has already served almost 3 ½ years in prison and will be credited for that time with the 10½-year sentence.
Rezko opted to enter jail after his June 2008 conviction, but his sentencing was delayed because of the possibility that federal prosecutors would call him as a witness at other key trials connected to the probe of the Blagojevich administration, including the former governor's retrial over the summer.
Rezko was never called to testify, but the years he stood ready to do so have become a key point of debate between his attorneys and prosecutors in recent court filings.
Rezko's attorneys asked that he be sentenced to time served, while prosecutors sought a prison term of 11 to 15 years.
Rezko was convicted by a federal jury of extorting millions of dollars from firms seeking state business or regulatory approval while he was a Blagojevich confidant. More than two years later, in October 2010, he pleaded guilty to wire fraud over the bogus sale of his pizza restaurants. He still faces sentencing for that conviction as well.
Rezko's lawyers have argued that the harsh conditions he endured since his incarceration have been unprecedented for a white-collar defendant and are a key reason why he should not spend any more time behind bars. While at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago and a jail in Dodge County, Wis., Rezko was often allowed just one hour a day outside his cell, had meals pushed through a slot and was not able to breathe fresh air or see sunlight, they have said.
"The only reason Mr. Rezko has had to endure such conditions is because the government asked him to delay his sentencing for nearly four years," his attorneys wrote in a recent filing.
The defense also complained that other defendants convicted in the probe — particularly corrupt political insider Stuart Levine — face far less time in prison than prosecutors are seeking for Rezko.
The prosecution, however, has argued that Rezko's cooperation was essentially too little, too late, coming after his conviction at trial on 16 counts that included fraud, bribery and money laundering.
Prosecutors, in a filing Monday, also described how Rezko withheld information from them, undercutting their investigation.
"Rezko lied point-blank repeatedly over his first 19 interview sessions about his criminal involvement with Blagojevich," the prosecution said.
Associated Press contributed to this reportCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun