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Ex-Democratic fund-raiser gets 3 years’ probation

Joseph Cari

Joseph Cari

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:24AM

Joseph A. Cari Jr. — a disbarred lawyer who was a key fund-raiser for former President Bill Clinton’s and former Vice President Al Gore’s Democratic presidential campaigns — avoided prison Tuesday when a federal judge in Chicago sentenced him to serve three years of probation for his role in the corruption case that also took down former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Cari, 58, will have to serve nine months of that on home detention but will be permitted to travel for work.

U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve also ordered him to pay a $50,000 fine and perform 250 hours of community service.

Nearly six years ago, prosecutors recommended that Cari serve two years in prison. That recommendation came when Cari pleaded guilty to attempted extortion in the case federal authorities dubbed “Operation Board Games.”

Since then, Cari has been cooperating with prosecutors. Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar told the judge Tuesday that Cari had committed a “significant crime” but was among the most contrite and cooperative prosecution witnesses he has ever worked with.

A native South Side Chicagoan who has since moved to New York, Cari testified during the successful corruption prosecution of top Blagojevich adviser Tony Rezko in 2008. He also testified last year at the former governor’s first trial — which ended with Blagojevich being convicted only of lying to the FBI, with a hung jury on other charges. And Cari is cooperating with prosecutors preparing a case against longtime Springfield insider William F. Cellini, who is to stand trial in October.

“I accept full responsibility for my actions, and I will live with the shame and pain the rest of my life,” Cari told St. Eve. “I apologize to everyone I’ve let down.”

Within weeks of his 2005 indictment, Cari admitted to shaking down a Virginia investment firm whose business with the state of Illinois’ teacher-pension fund was, according to a Rezko-orchestrated scheme, supposed to be contingent on the awarding of a lucrative finder’s fee to a Rezko associate. According to prosecutors, Cari engaged in the “wrongful use of actual and threatened fear of economic harm” in 2004 by conveying a message that the investment firm needed to hire the consultant or lose its deal. He pleaded guilty to attempted extortion.

Cari’s lawyers, including former U.S. Attorney Scott R. Lassar, noted Cari didn’t know the consultant’s name at the time, nor that the consultant had ties to Rezko. They also said Cari was acting at the request of former New York state Comptroller Carl McCall, then a partner of Cari’s in the private equity firm Healthpoint Capital.

Cari testified during the Blagojevich and Rezko trials that Blagojevich wanted him to take a leading role in raising money for Blagojevich’s gubernatorial camapaign, with big contributors to be rewarded with lucrative state contracts. Cari had been the national finance chairman for “Gore for President” in 2000, was a member of the Democratic National Committee and had been active in Democratic presidential races dating to former President Jimmy Carter.

Cari refused to get involved with Blagojevich, which appeared to have an impact on St. Eve.

“You refused the offers to become part of the bigger scheme — I do find that significant here,” the judge said before announcing Cari’s sentence.

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