Sentencing set in Chicago for ex-state official
A federal judge in Chicago is scheduled Tuesday to sentence the former executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority in a "pay-to-play" scheme in which he donated $50,000 to the campaign of then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for the state job.
Ali Ata, 60, is one of the last figures to be sentenced in a decade-long legal saga that snared more than a dozen men, including Blagojevich.
Ata testified at Blagojevich's first corruption trial that ended mostly deadlocked two years ago. His testimony helped convict the impeached governor on one count of lying to the FBI about fundraising. Ata did not testify at Blagojevich's second, more streamlined trial.
The judge sentencing Ata, James Zagel, is the same judge who sentenced Blagojevich to 14 years on 18 corruption counts. Blagojevich began serving his term in March.
Ata pleaded guilty to making false statements to a government agent and filing a false income tax return. Those convictions would normally carry a maximum eight-year sentence, but Ata's plea deal calls for a sentence of between one and one-and-a-half years.
In a recent filing, the defense cited Ata's devotion to his family and his cooperation with U.S. attorneys in calling for probation.
Ata testified in 2010 that he took a $25,000 check to a meeting in 2003 but didn't get his job with the authority — which provides public financing to businesses, nonprofit groups and local agencies — until after donating another $25,000 a year later.
After making the second $25,000 payment, Ata said he ran into Blagojevich at a fundraising event, where the then-governor said Ata would, in fact, be getting a state job and that "it had better be one where you can make some money."
Ata also testified at the earlier trial of Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko, who was convicted in a $7 million kickback scheme.
Ata, a native of Jordan, testified at Rezko's trial that he came to the U.S. seeking an education and after graduation from college worked for a water treatment company for 25 years. He said after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, FBI agents came to his company to question him.
Two weeks later the company offered him an early retirement package and he took it. While he wasn't asked for details, the government has said nothing tying him to Sept. 11 and early retirement was not what he wanted.
"It was devastating to myself and my family," Ata testified.
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