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Judge refuses to show leniency to Blagojevich aide who testified against his longtime friend
CHICAGO (AP) ' A judge Tuesday handed a two-year sentence to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's law school roommate-turned-top aide who provided devastating testimony that helped send his old friend to prison.
In meting out punishment to Alonzo "Lon" Monk, Judge James Zagel rejected defense arguments that Monk deserved a measure of leniency accorded to others who cooperated with federal investigators.
Monk, as Blagojevich's close friend for decades, should have known better than anyone that Blagojevich's personality was trouble, and so he should have declined jobs with the Democrat, including as his first chief of staff, Zagel said.
"Before he took the job, he knew he was dealing with someone with relentless persistence to get his way," the judge said.
Monk pleaded guilty in 2009 to one count of wire fraud for helping Blagojevich try to squeeze a racetrack owner for a $100,000 campaign donation.
Monk's sentencing came three weeks after Blagojevich reported to prison to begin a 14-year sentence imposed by Zagel in December. It also came a week after Zagel handed Blagojevich's last chief of staff, John Harris, a mere 10-day sentence for helping Blagojevich try to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.
Monk's plea deal called specifically for a two-year sentence, rather than the maximum five years. But his attorney said Harris' sentence rendered a multiyear term for Monk excessive. Zagel, though, said he saw no evidence that Monk, unlike Harris, ever tried to thwart Blagojevich's schemes.
Prosecutors also noted that Monk, unlike Harris, directly profited from corruption, including by receiving illicit $10,000 payments from former Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko, slipped to him in envelops stuffed with hundreds.
Monk appeared straight-faced for most of Tuesday's hourlong hearing, grimacing only when prosecutor Chris Niewoehner mixed praise for Monk's cooperation with sharp criticism that he could have come forward much earlier and stopped Blagojevich's crimes.
Monk showed little emotion in his comments to Zagel.
"I am prepared to serve my sentence," he said. "I am sorry ... and I look forward to coming back a better person."
Earlier, defense attorney Michael Shepard took issue with Zagel's contention that Monk should have had the fortitude to challenge Blagojevich if he sincerely felt ill-at-ease by his actions.
"He's a decent, quite, humble, honest guy," said Shepard. "His personality was not the kind of personality to take on Blagojevich."
Monk was ordered to report to prison on July 6. His lawyer asked he be sent to a facility in Terre Haute, Ind.
The beach-loving Monk grew up the son of a Beverly Hills physician in Southern California, where peacocks roamed the family home's grounds. Blagojevich was raised in blue-collar Chicago, the son of a Serbian-immigrant factory worker.
Despite their contrasting backgrounds, the men forged a bond at law school in Malibu, Calif., that remained strong through the time Monk served as groomsman at Blagojevich's wedding at least until Blagojevich's 2008 arrest.
Monk gave up a career as a sports agent to join Blagojevich's staff after he was elected to Congress and then worked at Blagojevich's gubernatorial office. A few years later, he left to become a highly paid lobbyist.
Monk's testimony at Blagojevich's two trials appeared to sever the friends' ties.
Blagojevich told reporters during the legal proceedings that Monk had lied on the stand. He added, "As my old friend was testifying and saying things that he knew weren't true, I couldn't help but think about the times we spent together."
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mtarm