Tony Rezko, who prosecutors portrayed as the Svengali-like gatekeeper of former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s inner circle, was sentenced Tuesday to 10-and-a-half years in prison.
“I deeply regret my conduct,” a haggard Rezko told Judge Amy St. Eve in a hoarse whisper. “I take full responsibility for my actions. I sincerely apologize for all of the wrongdoing I have done.”
Prosecutors argued that Rezko, who held no official position in state government, controlled a smorgasbord of wrongdoing in Blagojevich’s world, from hiring, to state contracts, to which firms got lucrative government investments. In the process, they said he extorted millions of dollars from those hoping to do business with the State of Illinois.
“Illinois was for sale at the top levels,” prosecutor Chris Niewoehner told the court. “Mr. Rezko belongs in a particularly malignant class of offender.”
Defense attorney Joe Duffy countered that Rezko was a rags-to-riches success story who had helped countless relatives and friends through unbridled acts of generosity. And he vehemently argued that Rezko’s sentence should not be severe, while former chief of staff and Rezko co-conspirator Lon Monk drew only 24 months in prison.
“Without the consenting public official, a thousand Tony Rezkos could have accomplished nothing,” Duffy said. “Mr. Rezko is not an individual you will ever see in a courtroom again.”
Duffy asked the court to sentence Rezko to the time he had already served behind bars. But those pleas fell on deaf ears.
“You defrauded the people of the State of Illinois,” Judge Amy St. Eve told Rezko as he stood in the well of the court, his prison-issued scrubs hanging on a gaunt body which looked aged beyond his 56 years.
“You engaged in extensive corruption. You had an inner position at the political table,” she said. “You used it for yourself, and your buddies.”
After court, Duffy said he was disappointed in the sentence, which he called “harsh”.
“The message, and the punishment, should go to the public officials who abused the public trust,” he said. “Anything Tony Rezko did with the State of Illinois was done with the direction and permission of the governor and his chief of staff Lon Monk.”
But U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald argued that though Rezko drew the stiffest sentence so far from Blagojevich’s inner circle, he brought that sentence on himself.
“The reason we couldn’t hold Mr. Monk accountable for more of his conduct, were the credibility issues that Mr. Rezko brought on himself,” Fitzgerald said.
Prosecutors have previously said Rezko lied in his first 19 interviews with the FBI. He also wrote a highly publicized letter to Judge St. Eve, denying that he had committed any wrongdoing. The government said because of those credibility issues, he was virtually worthless as a witness, including their cases against Monk and Blagojevich.
“The efforts to pillage government for personal profit and campaign contributions were horrendous,” Fitzgerald said. “To get caught and then say, ‘Enough, just let me go home?’ Jail, prison, is not a productive place!”