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Stuart Levine, a key figure in Blagojevich case, gets 67 months

Attorney Jeffery Steinback (left) with Stuart Levine  Dirksen Federal Building after Levine was sentenced 67 months prisonThursday July 19

Attorney Jeffery Steinback, (left) with Stuart Levine at Dirksen Federal Building, after Levine was sentenced to 67 months in prison,Thursday, July 19, 2012 . | John H. White~Sun-Times.

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Updated: August 21, 2012 6:25AM



He went from being whisked on private jets to scrounging for change for gas, his $7 million home and Armani suits replaced with a leaking, paint-peeling apartment and more modest wardrobe.

Stuart P. Levine’s “long hard fall” was bookended with a predictable thud Thursday when he was sentenced to 67 months in prison for conspiring to plunder two state regulatory boards in a kickback scheme that eventually led to the downfall of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his key political allies.

Once an influential Republican powerbroker and fund-raiser, Levine was spared more time behind bars in exchange for the frank, eye-opening testimony he gave against Blagojevich fund-raiser Tony Rezko and Springfield insider William Cellini. His willingness to speak up about the wrongdoing by his longtime friend former 10th Ward Ald. Edward Vrdolyak, the disgraced ex-governor and others also alleviated the severity of his punishment.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve called Levine one of the “most corrupt politicians” in the northern district of Illinois. “You defrauded the good people of Illinois. You stole from close friends. The havoc you wreaked is certainly substantial,” St. Eve told Levine, 66.

But the judge also noted that the former Highland Park businessman was the most “valuable” of cooperating witnesses and seemed to move beyond the “arrogance” he displayed on the witness stand before handing him a sentence close to the 5

½ -year penalty that was ironed out in his plea deal.

Levine is to surrender on Sept. 27 to begin serving his sentence.

Had Levine not stepped forward, Blagojevich may never have been pursued and tried for his corruption case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner conceded Thursday. Levine certainly enabled crooked politicians with his crimes, but his “historic cooperation” should earn him a standing in the “hall of fame” of public corruption, the veteran prosecutor said.

Standing straight, Levine, expressed his “profound remorse and deep regret for all that I have done” in a loud, clear voice as a packed courtroom looked on.

The millionaire-turned-shopping mall salesman also acknowledged that his actions “eroded” trust in the government and “tainted” the reputation of honest elected officials he worked with on the Teachers Retirement System and Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board.

“I wish to express my deepest regret to the people of Illinois,” said Levine, who maintained his composure during his apology, except when he mentioned his children as his voice cracked with emotion.

Levine raked in millions of dollars from the shady deals and admitted during Rezko’s 2008 trial that his greed pushed him to steal $2 million from the estate of a dead friend.

He also was forthcoming about his voracious appetite for illegal substances and how he hid his reckless behavior from his family. When asked about reports that his secretary could hear him snorting drugs in his office, Levine bluntly said, “If my snorting was so loud that you could hear me through a wall or door, then I’m quite amazed by the loudness of my snorting.”

But the man who once copped to drug-soaked sex parties at Lincolnwood’s Purple Hotel is now so conscientious, he tries to get smokers to quit their unhealthy habits, his attorney Jeffrey Steinback said, quoting philosophers and a Shakespearean sonnet to exemplify his client’s transformation.

Levine is no longer narcissistic, and his rabbis can count on him to pick up fellow congregants from the airport, Steinback said. “He’d like to have a do-over. He has embraced humility,” Steinback said. .

“He praysevery day, not for leniency. But for forgiveness and redemption . . . and to think of others before himself.”

Levine’s embarrassing revelations were “terribly painful” and came at a high cost, Steinback said. His marriage quickly disintegrated, he became suicidal and at one point, his life was in danger because of what Steinback said was a credible threat that prompted the feds to take action.

“His sense of guilt and shame overwhelmed him and his self-loathing became an “unshakable shadow,” Steinback said.

“This is a good man who did terrible things,” Steinback said after the sentencing hearing with a silent Levine at his side.

“People change, and it’s possible, and it happened in Stuart’s case. But it didn’t happen with any great ease. There were years of counseling, therapy and genuine commitment to try to deal with his own demons.”



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