Judge sentences con man to prison but changes mind for more lenient punishment
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org February 22, 2013 4:30PM
Anthony Cappello leaves the Dirksen Federal Building after sentencing Friday afternoon. A woman he walked out with tried to prevent him from being photographed. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: March 24, 2013 6:09AM
A federal judge who sentenced a contract fraudster to six months behind bars Friday changed her mind minutes later after the con man made a desperate plea for his freedom.
Judge Joan Lefkow spared FBI mole Anthony Cappello — even as she acknowledged that the justice system favors wealthy white collar criminals like him over the relatively poor drug dealers who fill the nation’s prisons.
Cappello, who ran a phony woman-owned business to cheat his way into City Hall deals worth $2.3 million, will instead serve six months home confinement after the judge’s highly unusual turnaround.
The 49-year-old Homer Glen resident admitted last year he’d fraudulently placed his company, the Stealth Group, in his wife’s name so that he could take advantage of Chicago’s much-abused minority and woman-owned contracting program. He has long been cooperating with the feds to root out similar scams.
But in front of a courtroom packed with Cappello’s supporters Friday, Lefkow told him the 200 hours he offered to spend helping women and minorities start businesses in Hammond, Ind. was “dramatically less” than the 13 months behind bars prosecutors wanted, describing it as “too lenient” a punishment.
Cappello’s actions not only robbed legitimate businesses of contracts, but also helped create an environment in which minority and women-owned firms are subject to greater scrutiny, she said.
But just as she finished sentencing Cappello to six months behind bars, four months of home confinement and one year of supervised release, Cappello’s attorney Joel Levin interrupted her, asking her to consider home confinement instead so that Cappello could keep his business going.
Patrick Collins — also representing Cappello — then told the judge he was concerned at “the signal” her sentence sent to other cooperating witnesses, pointing out that one of the letters the judge had received urging a harsh sentence came from a business Cappello has cooperated against. Collins added that Lefkow had delayed Cappello’s sentencing from a December hearing so that his defense team could make detailed arrangements with the Hammond non-profit where he plans to do his community service.
As an upset Cappello — who’d said he’d left the December hearing convinced by the judge’s words that he’d get probation — slapped his thigh in frustration and begged her to reconsider, the judge held a lengthy private conversation with attorneys for both sides.
Returning to the bench, the judge again described the prison term as “a good sentence,” telling Cappello, “You’re not here because of me — you’re here because of what you’ve done.”
But when Cappello again addressed her, telling her that “I have paid and suffered” and that any jail term would force the closure of his surviving business, Diamond Coring, Inc., and the loss of 34 jobs, Lefkow wavered.
And when probation officer Jodi Halleran suggested a longer period of probation, the judge seized on the suggestion, ordering Cappello to serve six months home confinement with electronic monitoring, 400 hours community service and two years probation, and to pay a $25,000 fine and $169,000 in restitution.
“I don’t like to change my mind,” the judge told Cappello. “I know you believe you paid a high price, but an hour ago I gave someone five years for selling a kilo of cocaine.
“Our system is skewed in favor of people like you who can afford the very fine lawyers you have...I’m not doing this for you but for the people who work for you...I’m taking a chance here.”
A relieved Cappello hugged his attorneys and relatives, but declined to comment as he left court.