Even before Antoin "Tony" Rezko's long-awaited sentencing began Tuesday, his teenage daughter appeared anxious, her arms clutching her stomach and her face already in a pained expression.
Two hours later, when a judge sentenced Rezko, once a top adviser to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, to 101/2 years in prison, his daughter, Chanelle, broke down in sobs and collapsed into her mother's arms.
"Blagojevich could not have been happy when he heard the prison time that Rezko will serve," said former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer. "He could reasonably get 12 to 15 years in prison."
About 40 relatives and friends attended Rezko's sentencing to show their support. At times during the hearing, some bowed their heads or placed their hands over their hearts.
In brief comments to U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve, Rezko apologized and spoke of the guilt and shame he felt for what he has put his family through.
"I come to ask for God's forgiveness and the court's mercy," said a pale and thin Rezko.
But St. Eve was not swayed, saying that "the sentence will send a message that enough is enough."
Rezko, 56, made a name for himself as a powerful insider and fundraiser, earning a position as one of Blagojevich's top advisers and confidants from early in his administration. He had a knack for cultivating up-and-coming politicians, including state Sen. Barack Obama, who would become president.
Prosecutors portrayed Rezko as a key member of Blagojevich's "kitchen cabinet" who exercised influence over the appointments made by the governor to state boards and commissions. In return, he expected campaign contributions to be made to Blagojevich, the government alleged.
A jury convicted him in 2008 of using his clout with Blagojevich and scheming with Stuart Levine, a longtime Republican political insider, to extort millions of dollars from firms that were seeking state business or regulatory approval.
And in October 2010, Rezko, an immigrant with an American rags-to-riches story to his credit, pleaded guilty to a separate federal fraud charge over the bogus sale of his pizza restaurants. He is still be sentenced for that conviction.
Patrick Collins, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted former Gov. George Ryan, said Rezko's sentence surpassed an informal "barrier" in public corruption cases in Chicago.
"Anything over 10 years for a public corruption offense is certainly on the stiffer side of the sentences," Collins said. "A 10-year sentence is sort of a barrier in a public corruption cases in Chicago."
Blagojevich is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 6 by U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who has made his disdain for the former governor's antics obvious. Blagojevich was convicted of lying to the FBI in his first trial last year and then a second jury found him guilty last summer on sweeping corruption charges, including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Obama's election as president.
"This sentence likely creates some additional upward pressure on the Blagojevich sentence," Collins said. "… The public official is likely deemed more culpable in the court's eyes."
While U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald celebrated Rezko's sentence as a "wake-up call" in a state with a long and troubled history of public corruption, Rezko's attorneys called it harsh and said St. Eve was not sending the message to the right people.
In court Tuesday and in recent filings, Rezko's attorney, Joseph Duffy, argued that Rezko was a private citizen who cooperated with prosecutors after he was convicted. He also agreed to delays in his sentencing while he began to serve time in jail, often in solitary confinement, as other related trials were held.
The debate between the government and the defense became pointed at times as Rezko's attorneys suggested that prosecutors left Rezko in a holding pattern after having decided that they did not need his cooperation after all.