EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) — A southern Illinois businessman and philanthropist who federal investigators say made $1 million in a bid-rigging scandal orchestrated by a county treasurer has been ordered to more than a year in prison.
U.S. District Judge David Herndon sentenced Barrett Rochman on Tuesday to a year and four months behind bars — the government's recommendation — and fined the Makanda man $30,000.
Rochman, 71, became the fourth person sentenced to prison in connection with a price-fixing scheme orchestrated by then-Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon, a Democrat who served more than 10 years as treasurer before resigning in 2009. He is serving a 30-month sentence.
Authorities say the wrongdoing involved Bathon's structuring the county's tax sales to permit the tax buyers to charge distressed homeowners inflated interest rates from 2005 to 2008 in exchange for campaign contributions.
That auction is how the county collects unpaid property taxes. The bidder offering the lowest interest rate on a particular parcel wins it, pays the taxes and gets a lien. The landowner either repays the money, plus the interest bid, or forfeits ownership.
Under the scheme, owners of 7,119 parcels paid roughly $4 million extra because of rigged bids, federal prosecutor Steve Weinhoeft said.
All of the defendants pleaded guilty to antitrust violations.
During his sentencing hearing, Rochman apologized and told Herndon he was motivated not by greed but "stupidity and a need to feel important."
Herndon called Rochman the "alpha dog" of the three accused tax lien buyers, noting that Rochman was top in the volume of liens purchased and in campaign donations made to Bathon. As part of the scheme, the judge said, Rochman bought $3.7 million in liens, made about $1.1 million in excess interest and contributed an average of about $5,000 each year to Bathon.
Herndon said that while he had planned to give Rochman to the same 30-month prison term as Bathon, he noted that supportive letters he received on Rochman's behalf were "stunning" in number and content. "It's just amazing the impact this man has had on people," Herndon said.
The judge also credited Rochman with good works, ranging from creating a park honoring a son killed in a car wreck to raising money to find a cure for the rare neurological disease that killed one of Rochman's granddaughters. Rochman also donated to a home for mentally disabled men.
John Rogers, Rochman's attorney, described his client as a self-made success who started his business career in a Chicago housing project to support the family while his father was in the Navy, eventually donating generously to various causes.