- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

CHICAGO — A former top fundraiser for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, convicted of pressuring firms for kickbacks as part of a political pay-to-play scheme, was sentenced Tuesday to 10 1/2 years in prison but will get credit for time served.

Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who also raised funds for Barack Obama’s Senate campaign, spent 3 1/2 years in custody awaiting sentencing on his 2008 convictions for fraud, money laundering and plotting to squeeze $7 million in kickbacks from companies that wanted to do business with the state during Blagojevich’s tenure.

Attorneys for the former Chicago real estate developer and fast-food entrepreneur had asked that he be set free, arguing that he had served more time than others who were convicted as part of the federal investigation of Blagojevich have or are expected to serve.

But U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve told Rezko that his “selfish and corrupt actions” had damaged the trust people have in their government.

“You defrauded the people of Illinois, you engaged in extensive corruption throughout the state of Illinois,” the judge said, adding that she hoped other politicians would take note of the penalty for corruption. “This sentence must send a message that enough is enough.”

Rezko asked Judge St. Eve for mercy and apologized to the court, his friends and family.

“I deeply regret my conduct,” he said. “I take full responsibility for my actions.”

Rezko told the judge his brother, sister and favorite cousin passed away during his incarceration, and no punishment could be greater than the guilt he feels for not being with them when they were dying.

A gaunt Rezko, clad in a prison uniform and shackled at the ankles, bore little resemblance to the robust millionaire whose trial was held more than three years ago, a transformation even Judge St. Eve mentioned.

“Just looking at you physically is evidence of the great fall that you have had,” she said to Rezko, who stood before her with his arms crossed.

Rezko showed no initial reaction when the sentence was handed down, but several relatives began crying. As he was led out of the courtroom, family members called out, “We love you,” and “You’re the best.”

Defense attorney Joe Duffy called the sentence disappointing but said he was not sure yet about appealing.

“We think this sentence is harsh. I understand why the judge wants to send a message, and a message should be sent to the community,” he said, but added that the message and punishment “should go to the public officials who have abused the public trust.”

Prosecutors had asked that Rezko get between 11 and 15 years, and said prisoners generally serve 85 percent of their full sentences.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called Rezko sentence “stiff and appropriate.” He said it is unusual to see such a long sentence for corruption and that it appeared the sentences are getting longer.

He would not say what he thought Rezko’s penalty might mean for Blagojevich’s sentence.

The former governor is set to be sentenced next month and could get about 10 years. He was convicted this year on charges that included trying to sell or trade an appointment to President Obama’s old Senate seat.

Rezko, 56, also was a political fundraiser for Mr. Obama during his campaigns for Illinois senator, though not for his presidential campaign. Mr. Obama has not been accused of wrongdoing in the case, but his relationship with Rezko and separate real estate ties between the two men became an issue in the 2008 election.