Ex-informant pleads guilty to Riverdale fraud; faces 20 years
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter May 16, 2014 1:46PM
John Thomas | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times
Updated: June 18, 2014 6:11AM
Fraudster and former federal mole John Thomas faces up to 20 years behind bars after he pleaded guilty Friday to stealing more than $370,000 from suburban taxpayers.
Thomas, 51, presented himself as the savior of south suburban Riverdale’s marina, securing $900,000 in tax increment financing to redevelop the site in 2012, before looting the funds for himself.
Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, the normally voluble and smooth-talking real estate developer pleaded guilty in a quiet voice at lunchtime in U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s courtroom.
His plea marks a swift resolution to the case; Thomas was indicted only last month. He led a wild couple of weeks while under house arrest on bond earlier this month, violating almost every order Zagel gave him, including staging an illicit tryst with his mistress, then roping his dentist into his cover story.
His attorneys Joe “The Shark” Lopez and Larry Beaumont said Friday that Thomas has already paid back $75,000 of the money he stole and that he hopes to pay back the rest. They said they would argue for a sentence of less than the three years that federal sentencing guidelines call for when Thomas is sentenced in August.
“He’s a good man who made some mistakes,” Beaumont said. “We all make mistakes.”
Thomas’s wife, Lori, shook her head as her husband’s misdeeds were listed in court by prosecutor Sunil Harjani. Despite the humiliation of her husband’s affair, she’s sticking by Thomas, Lopez said.
The plea deal does not require that Thomas cooperate with prosecutors. He previously dodged prison by serving as a federal informant for nearly a decade after his conviction for a billboard scam in New York in the late 1990s.
Prosecutors cut him a break on that occasion because evidence he provided helped convict politically-connected real estate developer Tony Rezko.
But Lopez said last week that Thomas has nobody left to cooperate against.
Thomas, who changed his name when he moved from New York to Chicago, has been trailed by a series of lawsuits and allegations of wrongdoing in recent years.
In addition to the stolen tax-increment financing funds, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of boats and equipment were stolen from the marina on his watch.
Some of the TIF cash he stole went to pay rent to Raghuveer Nayak, the businessman, felon and alleged “bribe guy” behind an alleged attempt to buy President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat for Jesse Jackson Jr.