Blagojevich insider Stuart Levine gets 5 1/2 years

July 19, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Stuart Levine pleaded guilty to money laundering and fraud charges and could have received a life sentence. But U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve sentenced the admitted swindler and longtime drug addict to the term prosecutors recommended as part of his plea deal.

Levine didn't testify at either of Blagojevich's trials, but prosecutors said he deserved substantial credit for evidence that led to Blagojevich's convictions. Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison sentence.

Levine did take the stand at the trials of other Blagojevich insiders, and his testimony about his own sordid past was as disturbing as it was captivating.

The 66-year-old Levine described how he used his position as executor of a close friend's will to cheat its beneficiaries, including a deaf daughter, out of $2 million. Levine then sent surviving relatives a $1 million bill for his executor services.

He also described using hard drugs over three decades. In the early 2000s, he said he would snort 10 "lines" of a powdered mix of crystal methamphetamine and ketamine -- sometimes at binge parties he flew to by private jet.

With acting U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro watching Thursday's proceedings -- underscoring the investigation's importance to his office -- prosecutor Chris Niewoehner heaped praise on Levine's work with investigators, saying "Mr. Levine was a historic cooperator." He said Levine helped convict multiple political officials who deserved to be in "a hall of fame of ... corruption."

Before hearing the sentence, a somber-looking Levine stood ramrod straight as he addressed the judge and professed his "profound remorse and deep regret" for all he had done. His voice cracked as he also apologized to his children. One of his supporters broke down in tears as he spoke.

Before handing down the sentence, St. Eve told Levine, "You are one of the most corrupt individuals this district has ever seen."

A recent prosecutors' filing reflected their mixed feelings about Levine, noting he "victimized the public, charities and universities, and individuals, with losses in the multiple millions of dollars -- much of which went into Levine's pockets."

But they also conceded that Levine "has been one of the most valuable cooperators (for this district) in public corruption cases over the last 30 years."

"It was Levine's decision to cooperate that set in motion a series of events that led directly to the government obtaining the evidence and witnesses it needed to prosecute Blagojevich," prosecutors wrote.

On the stand during the trials of Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko and erstwhile powerbroker William Cellini, the heavyset Levine cut an odd figure -- speaking nervously at times and in a high-pitched voice, occasionally looking confused. Levine told jurors he sometimes had difficulty with his memory and conceded it may have been due to decades of drug abuse.

Defense attorneys devoted days to tearing at Levine's credibility, calling him a habitual liar and a lifelong crook, portrayals Levine barely challenged. Cellini's attorney, Dan Webb, told jurors Levine was "a whack job."

Levine admitted to lining his pockets with millions of dollars he squeezed from firms seeking state business. He struck a deal with the government six years ago. His cooperation led to the conviction of Blagojevich, Cellini, former Chicago alderman Edward Vrdolyak and Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko.

"This is a good man who did some terrible things. And has had an opportunity for redemption in the years that have ensued, not just through his cooperation but through the work he has done to better himself," said Jeff Steinback, Levine's attorney.

Former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins said the government got more than they ever expected from Levine.

"The government feels like they got an extraordinary benefit, but they also have to acknowledge the extraordinary corruption that he brought," said Collins.

Cooperating with the government came at a huge personal cost for Levine. As key witness in the Rezko and Cellini trials, Levine's past drug use and sex life became an open book.

Levine has asked to be placed in an alcohol and drug center when sent to a federal prison. He must report on September 27.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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