A judge has handed a two-year sentence to a longtime friend of Rod Blagojevich who stood close to the former Illinois governor as his fortunes rose, but who turned against him after his 2008 arrest.
Lon Monk's sentencing Tuesday came weeks after Blagojevich reported to prison to begin a 14-year sentence for corruption counts. Monk is one of the last members of Blagojevich's inner circle to be sentenced in a legal saga stretching back a decade.
"I am prepared to serve my sentence," Monk said Tuesday. "My family is preparing."
Monk testified at both of Blagojevich's trials. He told jurors he and Blagojevich tried to squeeze a racetrack owner for a $100,000 campaign donation.
Monk pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud and agreed to testify in exchange for a government recommendation that he serve two years rather than the maximum five. Part of his sentence also includes paying a $7,500 fine.
"I am sorry and I regret it," Monk said, noting he hopes to return from prison "a better person, a better father, a better husband and a better friend."
John Harris, Blagojevich's last chief of staff, was last week sentenced to just 10 days in prison for helping his old boss try to sell President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.
At Blagojevich's sentencing in December, Zagel explained why he felt the one-term congressman and two-term governor deserved a stiff sentence, telling the crowded courtroom that Blagojevich had been the ringleader of the illegal schemes and that, as a top elected official, he had violated voters' trust.
Many believe Zagel got Blagojevich's sentence right.
"Sure, 14 years in longer than 10 days," said longtime Illinois political observer Charlie Wheeler. "But Blagojevich was at the top of the pile. ... Harris was small fry. To me, Blagojevich deserved just what he got."
Blagojevich's 18 convictions for a range of crimes versus Harris' sole conviction renders comparisons of their sentences difficult, said Chicago-based attorney Gal Pissetzky, who defends clients in federal courts around the country.
Harris also faced a maximum five-year term behind bars, while Blagojevich was looking at a theoretical maximum term of 305 years, which makes the impeached governor's 14-year sentence appear somewhat less harsh.
But Pissetzky said Zagel's 10-day sentence for Harris did seem to run counter to rigid rules among federal judges in Chicago, who he says rarely reduce a sentence by more than a third for even the most exemplary cooperative witnesses.
Pissetzky also questioned whether Harris' 10-day term fulfilled mandates for a sentence to act as a deterrent.
"Will 10 days deter someone like Harris in the future from participating in selling a Senate seat?" asked Pissetzky. "Or will someone just say to themselves, 'I'll commit the crime, and if I get caught, I'll admit it, cooperate and just get 10 days'?"
By going easy on Harris and hard on Blagojevich, Pissetzky said, prosecutors were also issuing a clear warning to defendants to come.
"Their message is, if you play ball and cooperate from the get-go you'll be a lot better off, like Harris," he said. "If you exercise your constitutional rights, take the case to trial and lose — watch out!'"