Chicago Sun-Times
Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

Tony Rezko cooperated but was never called to testify. Should judge still give him a break?

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Tony Rezko dished out insider details on Illinois corruption. But prosecutors still want the onetime friend to Barack Obama to serve 11 to 15 years in prison.

Should a judge give him a break?

Rezko cooperated with federal authorities -- but not until after his 2008 conviction on 16 of 24 counts of corruption under Blagojevich's tenure as governor. Prosecutors never used Rezko as a witness in subsequent criminal cases.

It's left the once high-profile defendant, set to be sentenced on Tuesday in Chicago federal court, in a precarious position.

Rezko volunteered to go to jail immediately, volunteered to cooperate and volunteered to delay his sentencing so he could be called as a witness at both of Blagojevich's trials as well as the trial of Springfield power broker William Cellini, according to his lawyers.

Being behind bars -- but not sentenced -- meant he endured more oppressive prison conditions than most white collar criminals who are usually sentenced then shipped off to prison camps, his lawyers said.

But in the end, the government never called him to the witness stand. While Rezko's lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve. to sentence him to time served, the government has requested a stiff penalty: 11 to 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors argue Rezko's cooperation wasn't that helpful, that he lied to them in debriefing sessions and that their proposed penalty would cover a second criminal case before a different judge involving loan fraud.

"Rezko's cooperation was heavily tainted by the timing of when he decided to cooperate, by his repeated lies to judges, and by his pervasive and sustained lies made to the government over the first several months of his purported cooperation with the government," prosecutors wrote in a recent filing.

Because he was in talks with federal authorities, Rezko served about nine months in the most restrictive jail conditions at the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center -- a Special Housing Unit called the "SHU" where "high-risk" inmates -- including accused terrorists and currently, a suspected high-ranking leader of a violent Mexican drug cartel -- are held.

It's also a place where the jail houses high-profile defendants or those cooperating, under the argument that it's for their own protection.

Legal observers say a judge can credit defendants for harsher conditions -- as well as for their cooperation, even if the prosecution doesn't use the witness at trial.

"A lot of courts over the years have thought about and considered the conditions of confinement," during sentencing, defense lawyer Patrick Cotter said.

Scott Fawell, onetime chief of staff of convicted ex-Gov. George Ryan, said time in the SHU should not be shrugged off. Fawell once spent two nights there and pleaded with prison officials to allow him into general population.

"I said: 'I'll sign anything, just get me out of here,'" Fawell said in an interview. There's no TV, no card-playing, no interaction with other inmates, he said.

"You can't see outside," he said. "You have to stick your hand-cuffed hands through a slot to get food."

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This page contains a single entry by Natasha Korecki published on November 21, 2011 3:08 PM.

U.S. Attorney's Office on Cellini juror -- not so fast on mistrial. Felons can serve was the previous entry in this blog.

Judge: #Cellini juror felon record does not mean automatic mistrial. Defense must prove "actual bias" at hearing. is the next entry in this blog.

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