Ex- Blago fundraiser gets prison time

June 22, 2009 4:23:05 PM PDT
A federal judge has sentenced ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich's former chief fundraiser to 37 months in prison for hiding his use of company funds to pay gambling debts and other expenses from the Internal Revenue Service.Kelly was the chairman of the Friends of Blagojevich Campaign Fund.

Kelly's crime involved using money from his roofing business to pay off his gambling debts.

This is just round one for Kelly. He is scheduled to stand trial this fall on charges of taking kickbacks at his roofing business. He's also included in the wide-ranging indictment against former Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Monday, though, was about cheating on his taxes. Kelly's attorney argued for leniency saying that the case and all its publicity has been a terrible burden on Kelly and his family, and has essentially cost him his business. The judge expressed some sympathy but said the crime was serious and the sentence must reflect that. Her decision: 37 months.

Six years ago, Chris Kelly was the head of the Blagojevich inaugural festivities.

Kelly had already established himself as a key fundraiser and advisor for his friend Rod Blagojevich.

On Monday, Kelly was sentenced to 37 months in prison on federal tax fraud charges. He had entered a guilty plea in January, admitting that he had underreported profits at the roofing company he headed, and that he'd used funds from his company to cover tens of thousands of dollars in gambling debts.

Kelly said nothing as he left court on Monday, but before being sentenced, Kelly said to Judge Elaine Bucklo, "I'm deeply sorry to the court and my family and the people that I've embarrassed by my actions. I'm not proud of them. I know they were wrong."

Prosecutors argued that Kelly hatched the scheme to cover his gambling losses - basically out of greed - and that he stopped only after he'd learned he was under investigation.

This is the first of three criminal cases against Kelly - all within the orbit of pay-to-play allegations against the former governor.

So far, there's no indication that Kelly would elect to help the government in exchange for more lenient treatment.

"Chris Kelly was as close to Rod Blagojevich as anyone in this case so far, and this sentencing today sends a very chilling message to the former governor," said Andy Shaw, Better Government Association.

On Monday, Kelly was told to report to the Bureau of Prisons on November 2. In theory, his second trial will have ended by then. If prosecutors are able to win a guilty verdict in that one, the pressure for Kelly to cooperate will be ratcheted up.

Kelly also has to pay $600,000 in restitution to the government.


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