Tony Rezko sentenced to 126 months

November 22, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Tony Rezko, a former political fundraiser who helped raise a lot of money for former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and even some cash for future president Barack Obama, was convicted in 2008 on corruption charges. His sentence is for extorting millions of dollars from firms seeking state business or regulatory approval.

Rezko was living the American dream: He emigrated from Syria with nothing and became a successful businessman who had the ear of politicians, and that was Rezko's downfall.

The Dirksen Federal Building has seen an abundance of public corruption cases over the years, but seldom has a defendant in one of those cases been smacked with a ten-and-a-half-year sentence like the one handed to Rezko Tuesday around 11 a.m.

The question now is, if Rezko gets ten-and-a-half years, what's in store for Rod Blagojevich?

Rezko was unelected, unappointed, but he had the governor's ear. He was known first as a fundraiser, but Tony Rezko would also become a convicted extortionist. He has already done 44 months behind bars, and while he will get credit for that time served, he will still do quite a bit more.

Rezko agreed to cooperate with prosecutors when they were investigating corruption cases, including the one against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Because of that, Rezko's own sentencing was delayed -- until now.

However, Rezko never took the stand. Prosecutors said they could not use him. Rezko's attorney said the former political fundraiser endured harsh conditions while he was waiting in jail and that if he would have been sentenced earlier, he would have been in a more so-called "white collar" criminal facility.

Looking gaunt and with a voice quite frail, Rezko said Tuesday: "I deeply regret my conduct, I take full responsibility. There are no words to describe the pain and regret I feel."

But Judge Amy St. Eve sentenced Rezko to ten-and-a-half years for what she called his greed and personal thirst for power.

"Enough is enough," she said. "Corruption in Illinois state government has to stop."

Prosecutors had asked for up to 15 years behind bars for Rezko.

"I don't know how many times we've had sentences of ten-and-a-half years in corruption. So I think it's a bit of a wakeup call," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Prosecutors call the sentence stiff but appropriate. The defense thinks it's unfair that Rezko gets so much time when other defendants in Operation Board Games will do far less.

"I understand why the judge wants to send a message and a message should be sent to the community, but the message, I think, and the punishment should go to the public officials who abused the public trust," said Rezko attorney Joseph Duffy.

And that, of course, begs the question, if private citizen Rezko gets ten-and-a-half, what does the convicted ex governor get when he's sentenced in two weeks.

"Well now, ten is the mark, ten is the bar, and you're probably going to go above ten, so it wouldn't surprise me if Blagojevich got anywhere from 12 to 15 years, I mean, it really could go up to 15," said Jeff Cramer of Kroll Investigations, a former prosecutor.

Different judges and different defendants, but both were part of a common scheme. And federal sentencing guidelines are meant to bring some commonality to the punishment that judges mete out, thus the thinking that ten-and-a-half years for Rezko means more years for the ex-governor.

"The sentences have to make sense with respect to each individual defendant in this scheme and the only thing that makes sense is for Rod Blagojevich to get more time than Rezko," said Cramer.

Fitzgerald is hoping stiff sentences are the key to stopping public corruption in Illinois.

"We are going to seek very significant sentences because people need to know there are very, very dire consequences for breaching the public trust," said Fitzgerald.

Blagojevich is set to be sentenced December 6th.

Judge St. Eve Tuesday made clear her displeasure with a letter written to her by Rezko who claimed at the time that prosecutors were pressuring him to lie about Blagojevich. That worked against Rezko today. In a similar vein, Blagojevich's own testimony at trial will work against him at sentencing because it is considered to be an obstruction of justice.

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