A building contractor who says a seductive but unsavory world of the rich and the powerful in Illinois led him astray was sentenced Wednesday to a more than two-year prison term, a last piece of unfinished business from the investigation of imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Jacob Kiferbaum admitted he and others with links to Blagojevich threatened to deny state permission for a hospital's expansion unless it hired Kiferbaum's firm. A 2003 investigation into the scheme triggered a series of investigations that toppled dozens of Illinois powerbrokers, including Blagojevich.
A tearful Kiferbaum apologized to his family and the court Wednesday before the sentence was announced. Kiferbaum, 61 and the son of Holocaust survivors, wrote in a six-page letter to U.S. District Judge John F. Grady before his sentencing hearing that his decline began after he built Kiferbaum Construction into a profitable business.
"I didn't know how to handle that success and the world of the rich, powerful and influential people I found myself in," he said. "I lost my moral compass and couldn't properly guide myself in that environment that was worlds away from where and what I had come from."
Kiferbaum and his attorneys lay much of the blame on former associate Stuart Levine. In his letter, Kiferbaum describes being awed by the well-connected Levine when he met him in 2001.
"I wanted to be someone of such stature," Kiberbaum wrote. "So I wanted to become part of his world and I remember thinking I was so lucky to have a friend like Stuart Levine. ... The truth is that I was in way over my head with the company I was keeping."
Levine, an admitted swindler and longtime drug addict who went on to serve as a key government witness, was sentenced last year to 5 1/2-year prison term for money laundering and fraud.
Kiferbaum pleaded guilty in 2005 to attempted extortion in a deal that called for a prison term of around two years. His sentencing was delayed for eight years in case prosecutors needed to call him to testify. Since so many of government targets signed plea agreements, Kiferbaum never did take the stand.
In their own presentencing filing, prosecutors credited Kiferbaum with providing "extensive and detailed cooperation to the government" starting in 2004 soon after authorities told him he was under investigation.
The defense filing says Kiferbaum's cooperation set off a series of events that enabled the feds to arrest Blagojevich in 2008. The Chicago Democrat is serving a 14-year prison term in Colorado for multiple corruption convictions, including his attempt to trade or sell President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.
They also sought to paint Kiferbaum's crime as an aberration in an otherwise exemplary life.
They described how, at 18, he served in the Israeli army and was badly injured during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Kiferbaum, they say, came to the United States years later with just $72 in his pocket, taking his first American job as a shoe salesman.