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Ali Ata, figure in Blagojevich corruption case, gets probation

Ali Atleaves Dirksen Federal Building after receiving probatisentence Tuesday July 17 2012. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Ali Ata leaves the Dirksen Federal Building after receiving a probation sentence Tuesday, July 17, 2012. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 19, 2012 6:19AM

One of the last figures to be sentenced in the case that sent former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to prison won’t have to serve a day in prison.

A federal judge in Chicago sentenced Ali Ata on Tuesday to four years of probation.

“I am truly sorry for my actions, and I take full responsibility,” said Ata, former executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox said Ata is the most “honorable man” among all of the defendants in the case and said his testimony was important in winning the convictions of the former governor and of political fixer Tony Rezko.

Ata fell under Rezko’s “spell,” according to Ata’s lawyer, Thomas McQueen. In court, McQueen said that once Ata got away from Rezko’s influence, he was able to “right his wrong.”

Outside the courtroom after the sentencing, neither Ata nor McQueen would comment.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel also ordered Ata to make restitution totaling $150,474, which has already been paid, and he fined him $50,000.

Ata, 60, of Lemont, pleaded guilty in 2008 to lying to the FBI about giving $50,000 in campaign money to then-Gov. Blagojevich to win his six-figure state job.

Ata also admitted he filed a false income-tax return, failing to report $1.2 million in income from a development deal involving Rezko, the onetime Blagojevich campaign fund-raiser and adviser.

Convictions on those charges normally carry a maximum eight-year sentence, but Ata cooperated with federal authorities, including testifying against Blagojevich. So his plea deal called for a sentence of one to one-and-a-half years.

Ata, a chemical engineer, was let go by Nalco, the Naperville company where he had worked for 25 years, soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to his lawyer. Ata was questioned by the FBI after the terrorist attacks, and because of his name, he was asked to take a retirement package, McQueen said.

After his job dismissal, Ata focused on his real estate investments and met Rezko, McQueen said.

Zagel said it seemed that Ata might have felt like he was “treated unjustly.”

Ata testified during his former boss’ first trial two years ago that he was hired for his state job after personally giving Blagojevich a $25,000 campaign check at Rezko’s real estate office in August 2002 and delivering another $25,000 campaign contribution about 10 months later at a Navy Pier fund-raising event.

That trial ended with Blagojevich’s conviction on a charge of lying to the FBI, with the jury deadlocked on other charges. Ata did not testify at Blagojevich’s second trial.

Blagojevich is doing 14 years in prison for his corruption conviction. He reported to a federal prison outside Denver in March to begin serving his sentence.

Ata also testified against Rezko in 2008, helping prosecutors win Rezko’s conviction.

Fox said Ata gave prosecutors the “entire truth, no holds barred,” during his testimony at the tail end of Rezko’s 2008 trial.

Rezko is serving a 101/2-year prison sentence for shaking down people who wanted state contracts from Blagojevich’s administration.

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