Serial Con Man Who Scammed Riverdale Gets Prison

John Thomas felt invincible, his attorney said.

He wore wires and helped the feds put powerful politicos in prison. He used drugs, guzzled four bottles of wine a day and claimed he could take down an entire bottle of vodka without feeling drunk. The serial con man said his sexual conquests involved more than 2,000 women, according to one court filing.

But Wednesday, Thomas sobbed in front of U.S. District Judge James Zagel. He cried about his separation from his wife and 8-year-old daughter and about the “total and utter remorse and embarrassment” he’s felt since stealing more than $370,000 in tax increment financing money from south suburban Riverdale.

“I’m not the hurtful con man the prosecutors and media have made me out to be,” Thomas said, blubbering as he stood in front of the judge with his legs shackled and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit.

Zagel soon acknowledged that Thomas “probably cares deeply for his family.” But outside of that circle, the judge said he didn’t think Thomas “much cares at all.”

Then Zagel threw the book at Thomas, sentencing the 52-year-old to five years in prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sunil Harjani had asked for only 57 months to punish Thomas for what they called his “brazen and brash conduct.”

Members of Thomas’ family looked stunned by the sentence. Thomas swiveled in his chair to look back toward them moments after Zagel handed it down. Later, he gave a simple wave as he was led out of the courtroom.

Thomas may have stolen only $370,000 as he claimed to be fixing up the Riverdale marina. But Mayor Lawrence Jackson said after court that Thomas’ schemes cost the village more than $1 million. And even though Thomas has offered to make right by Riverdale, Jackson said, “Mr. John Thomas and his business endeavors are not wanted in Riverdale ever again.”

Harjani told Zagel that Thomas had his second chance in life and “blew it completely” after his conviction for a billboard scam in New York in the late 1990s. Prosecutors cut him a break because evidence he provided helped convict politically connected real estate developer Tony Rezko, who was released to a halfway house in Chicago this week.

Thomas also wore a wire to record conversations with former Ald. Ike Carothers, his lawyers claim.

Prosecutors laid out a litany of scams in court filings ahead of Thomas’ sentencing, including alleged attempts to sell the Riverdale Marina by faking the mayor’s signature and to sell a fake Babe Ruth baseball.

But Zagel pointed to more egregious examples that showed Thomas’ character: his liaison with his mistress at his dentist’s office while under house arrest and his alleged attempt to fake a bipolar disorder with coaching by his wife.

The latter was caught on tape when his wife gave him advice over the phone while he stewed at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, authorities said. His wife allegedly told him to “twitch your nose like a cat” and “do the sniff thing … play with your ear.”

Zagel called it appalling.

“Their purpose was clearly to pull the wool over the eyes of the psychologist,” Zagel said.

Defense attorneys Joseph and Lisa Lopez and Larry Beaumont sought 18 months in prison for their client, who apologized to the judge and to Riverdale. Joseph Lopez said Thomas is in need of psychological treatment for his addiction issues.

Beaumont said Thomas “lived on the edge” and had a sense of “invincibility” in his life. But he said that’s because federal prosecutors employed him to implicate “very powerful” and “very serious people.”

Thomas may have been arrogant, he said, but federal prosecutors “fostered that in him.”

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