Ask … but you don’t always receive.
That was the case for Illinois businessman James T. Weiss, owner of sweepstakes machines manufacturer Collage LLC. Weiss received a five-and-a-half-year prison sentence last week after a federal jury convicted him in June of seven crimes, including fraud, bribery and lying to the FBI.
Weiss requested a maximum of 27 months before the trial. He got 66.
Judge says Weiss’ sentence must reflect seriousness of the crimes
Sweepstakes machines operate in a legal gray area in Illinois. They are similar to the video gaming terminals and slot machines you can find at licensed, regulated Illinois casinos.
Casinos have pushed to outlaw them, while others have pushed for legalization. Weiss was in the latter camp, wanting legal sweepstakes machines so badly that he bribed then-state Rep. Luis Arroyo $2,500 monthly in 2018 and 2019 to get them legalized inside the state’s soon-to-be-signed gambling expansion bill.
Ultimately, US District Judge Steven Seeger had no leniency as to Weiss’ request for 27 months of jail time. He handed him a 66-month sentence, saying that Weiss had conducted a coordinated effort to corrupt both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly. Weiss and Arroyo enlisted then-Sen. Terry Link, who worked undercover with the feds to uncover the charges.
Seeger outlined Weiss’ role in the scheme at the trial.
“You tried to corrupt the state of Illinois and its legal system so you could profit. You were the financier of a three-ring corruption circus.”
Seeger also expressed worry that Weiss would commit future acts of the same nature. His sentence was longer than the 63-month guideline filed on Oct. 4. He said a lesser sentence would not be sufficient and “could be misconstrued to downplay the seriousness of the conduct.”
Judge blasts Weiss, Chicago, for corruption
Seeger undoubtedly weighed his decision heavily on Chicago’s history of corruption, which he condemned throughout the trial.
“Mr. Weiss, you added another star to Chicago’s walk of shame on the sidewalk of corruption.
“Public corruption is an embarrassment to the great city of Chicago. The public is tired of public corruption. That message has to get out. That message has to be delivered. You know what? It is an embarrassment. You helped solidify the city of Chicago as the capital of corruption, Mr. Weiss.”
Sentence was not a surprise
The 66-month sentence Weiss received was expected. Arroyo, who participated with Weiss, also faced trial for his involvement in the scheme. Seeger was also the judge overseeing that trial and gave Arroyo nearly five years despite Arroyo having since retired from politics.
Seeger also displayed his intolerance toward politicians displaying a lack of integrity in that trial. When the defense asked for probation and said prison time would be “no more effective than draining Lake Michigan with a spoon,” Seeger said he needed a bigger spoon.
Link, who Weiss and Arroyo enlisted in their efforts, cooperated with federal agents after he was convicted of falsifying tax returns and hopes to receive a reduced sentence at his trial next month.
Chicago has proven itself rife with corruption, most recently the subject of a federal public corruption investigation that has led to six convictions this year by a federal jury. Weiss was the sixth.
How much deeper does this get?
Before the trial, additional suspicions surfaced about Weiss having mafia ties. A court filing revealed a federal wiretap of his brother, Joseph Weiss, saying that Weiss knew former mobster Frank “The German” Schweihs and was involved in dealing with a long-time mob associate, called Individual B.
Weiss and his lawyer both denied these allegations. The public, however, will learn whether or not they are true.
Following the wiretap, Joseph Weiss was charged with lying to federal investigators about James’s connections with Schweihs. The case will unfold over the next few years, just as the corruption case took three years to reach a verdict.