CHICAGO – Attorneys for a former top fundraiser for Rod Blagojevich announced plans Tuesday to appeal his corruption-related convictions and 10 ½-year prison term, viewed by some as a baseline for the former Illinois governor in his upcoming sentencing.
Tony Rezko was sentenced last month for his 2008 convictions for fraud, money laundering and plotting to squeeze more than $7 million from companies seeking to do state business during Blagojevich's tenure. A federal judge derided him for his "selfish and corrupt actions" in giving him 10 1/2 years, minus time served.
Rezko's attorneys filed a notice of appeal Tuesday, but had not yet made a formal appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A different judge, James Zagel, will decide Wednesday on a sentence for Blagojevich, convicted of trying to sell or trade a U.S. Senate seat and shaking down officials for campaign contributions.
Both federal prosecutors and Blagojevich's attorneys have used Rezko and his sentence as comparison points. Prosecutors say Blagojevich, unlike Rezko, was an elected official chosen by voters because he promised to clean up public corruption. They have asked Zagel for a sentence of 15 to 20 years.
Blagojevich's attorneys argue that the former governor did not profit from his crimes like Rezko did. They acknowledged Tuesday in court that Blagojevich had committed crimes, but deserved a lesser sentence.
Rezko, 56, was a former Chicago real estate developer and fast-food entrepreneur who was well-known in Illinois politics. During Rezko's trial, prosecutors said he raised over $1 million for Blagojevich and got so much clout in return he could control two powerful state boards. They accused him of plotting to squeeze payoffs from money management firms that sought to invest the assets of the $40 billion state Teachers Retirement System and said he plotted to get a $1.5 million bribe from a contractor who sought state approval to build a hospital.
Observers say Rezko's sentence increases the odds Blagojevich's term will be longer.
"Prosecutors are going to say, 'Hey, Blagojevich was the grandmaster of all this — so he should certainly get even more time than Rezko,'" said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago.
Rezko raised money for Barack Obama during his campaigns for Illinois senator, but not his presidential campaign. Obama has not been accused of wrongdoing in the case.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office declined to comment late Tuesday.