CHICAGO (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday sentenced Antoin “Tony” Rezko, a former Chicago fundraiser for President Barack Obama, to 10-1/2 years in prison for corruption and extortion.
Rezko’s conviction was among a slew of guilty pleas that led to the conviction in two trials of former Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and several of his aides.
A Syrian immigrant who earned millions in the real estate and restaurant businesses, Rezko has been imprisoned since his 2008 conviction on 16 fraud and attempted bribery counts.
“Enough is enough. Corruption in Illinois has to stop,” U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve in handing down sentence to the now-gaunt, 56-year-old Rezko.
Rezko became a minor campaign issue for Obama during the 2008 presidential race. The two had become close friends and Rezko had raised tens of thousands of dollars for the then-Illinois state senator’s successful U.S. Senate and presidential campaigns.
At one point, the Republican National Committee referred to Rezko as Obama’s “money man”.
Rezko also advised Obama in the purchase of the future president’s large home on the south side of Chicago. Rezko’s wife purchased and then resold to the Obama family a side yard to the home they could not afford initially.
When Rezko was convicted, Obama said he was “saddened” and added, “This isn’t the Tony Rezko I knew.”
Because he has spent some 44 months in prison — some in solitary confinement awaiting a chance to testify that never came — Rezko has roughly 6 years, 10 months, left to serve. While in the Chicago federal prison for nine months, he was kept in solitary for his own protection because he was cooperating with the government,
The judge said she took into account the harsh prison conditions Rezko was put under, which has led to weight loss and a deterioration of his physical condition that she remarked on several times during the sentencing.
Judge St. Eve said she was sending a message that dishonesty in government does not pay, and that the endemic corruption in Illinois must stop. Blagojevich’s Republican predecessor George Ryan was also imprisoned for corruption. Blagojevich will be sentenced on 18 corruption counts December 6, which included attempts to sell Obama’s vacant Senate seat.
St. Eve said Rezko was a private citizen who wielded enormous power during Blagojevich’s abbreviated two terms in office through campaign donations and favors, and he and other corrupt officials helped engineer a scheme that netted nearly $10 million in bribes.
The scheme involved state boards in charge of approving new hospitals and oversight of the Teachers’ Retirement System, a multibillion-dollar pension fund. Rezko and his cohorts extorted bribes from companies seeking to invest the funds.
He still faces sentencing for fraud involving loans to a chain of struggling pizza restaurants he once owned.
Editing by Jackie Frank