Former State Sen. Rickey Hendon’s onetime campaign treasurer was on Friday spared prison for his role in a bribery scandal by a federal judge who said he was being lenient because it was “not a high-profile offense.”
Dean Nichols, 63, will instead have to serve three years probation, 600 hours community service and pay a $10,000 fine for agreeing to arrange $5,000 kickbacks for each of as many as 19, $25,000 Illinois state grants.
His arrest in 2012 — alongside several others with ties to Hendon — came around a year after Hendon abruptly resigned his West Side seat, prompting speculation that the former alderman was in prosecutors’ crosshairs.
But two years later, Hendon hasn’t been charged with any crime, and U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur on Friday cited low media interest in the case as an indication that whatever sentence he imposed was unlikely to deter other would-be government crooks.
Prosecutors said Nichols was a “savvy” schemer who deserved to be locked up for up to five years. Shadur said they’d wildly over calculated.
And Nichols, who is white, said he’d devoted his life to bringing different races together and helping the poor on the West Side, choked up as he apologized or “bringing shame and disgrace to my family and friends.”
In an unusual move, he apologized directly in court to his co-defendant, Robert Johnson, 61, who was one of the grant applicants the bribes were meant to help.
Johnson, who is a recovered drug addict and alcoholic, “is an old friend and I’m sorry that he’s facing this because of me,” Nichols said.
Shadur gave Johnson probation, too, saying it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” to impose a fine on someone who works a minimum wage job.