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Judge sentences con-men brothers, calling them ‘vampires preying on old people’

Updated: December 15, 2012 6:23AM

A pair of brothers who conned as many as 67 vulnerable victims out of their savings were each sentenced Tuesday to 14 years behind bars by a federal judge who described them as “financial vampires preying on old people”

John J. Sullivan, 50, and Dan J. Sullivan, 46, are such “heartless” and “evil” fraudsters, prosecutors say, that they drove one of their victims to suicide.

The serial rip-off artists swindled dozens of victims on the South and West sides out of nearly $750,000 in home equity through several of their home repair firms between 2002 and 2006, even after they were convicted of fraud in state court and ordered to get out of the home repair business.

Many of those victims — everyday people who Judge Ruben Castillo said “could not afford to lose this money” — were in court Tuesday to see the Sullivans finally jailed.

The brothers were convicted in six cases in which they promised to complete expensive home renovations, convincing homeowners to refinance their homes to pay for the work then splitting before the work was completed. But more than 60 other victims will also share the $711,000 in restitution Castillo ordered the Sullivans to pay.

During one emotionally charged speech at Tuesday’s hearing, Roxanne Sarno said her aunt Francis Spinks was conned into signing over her home to the Sullivans on her deathbed. Sarno told Castillo that the brothers were “evil, pure evil.”

Pointing at the brothers as they sat with their attorneys, dressed in orange prison-issue jumpsuits, she accused them of subsequently burning down her aunt’s home for the insurance money. “It’s not just one crook, it’s a family of crooks,” she said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Pope later described how John Sullivan told 48-year-old Northbrook mom Elizabeth Kelleher that he loved her and wanted to marry her, before defrauding Kelleher’s mother out of her life savings — nearly $600,000.

“Absolutely devastated” that the man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with had left her mother reliant on food stamps, Kelleher “took her own life to be found by her sons,” Pope said.

The Sullivans, the prosecutor said, “were shameless and odious” when it came to picking their victims. They themselves admitted, “‘The older the better, the blacker the better,’” the prosecutor said.

“They are horrific human beings,” he said.

Representing John Sullivan, whose last address was in Arizona, but who previously lived in Northbrook, attorney Michael Leonard said that while the Sullivans had run a “slipshod operation” they were guilty only of “a home repair fraud.” Barry Sheppard, representing Dan Sullivan, of Niles, added that his client “would take a mulligan” if he could, but added “It’s not for us to judge good and evil.”

Castillo scolded both attorneys for understating the seriousness of the Sullivan’s crimes.

Though only God could judge whether the Sullivans were to blame for Kelleher’s death, the men caused “devastation” for their victims, Castillo said, adding that both men seemed to think their previous court troubles were merely a cost of doing business.

“You got the wrong message,” the judge told them.

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