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Colorful federal mole John Thomas to plead guilty in scheme

If the judge handling his case made a rule, John Thomas admits he broke it.

Ordered to stay at his downtown condo under house arrest with his wife, he slipped out for a tryst with his lover, then roped his dentist into the cover story.

Told to turn over his computers and avoid the Internet, he devised an elaborate ruse with his Google TV.

Banned from using his phone, he took his mom’s and sent text messages disguising himself as “Joe Mamma.”

And limited to business deals of less than $500, he boasted he’d just made $150,000.

To former business partners his brazen behavior over the last two weeks since he was charged with stealing $370,000 from Riverdale taxpayers seemed typical. Thomas had a decade ago dodged what seemed a likely prison-term by wearing a wire against disgraced political fundraiser Tony Rezko, and he often boasted his status as a federal mole made him “untouchable,” they say.

But Thursday afternoon, the 51-year-old’s lies finally caught up with him, when he admitted he’d violated the terms of his bond. He also indicated that he plans to plead guilty on May 16 to stealing tax increment financing he’d been given to redevelop the blighted Riverdale Marina.

Normally sporting a grin and a ready quip, the visibly emotional conman was supported by his wife as he walked from U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s courtroom.

It’s likely the last time in a long time he’ll do so as a free man. Thomas agreed to turn himself in to U.S. Marshals on Monday morning.

“I just want to get on with my life,” he said as he left.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of at least 41 months, his lawyers Larry Beaumont and Joe “The Shark” Lopez said, though it’s possible Thomas could get up to 20 years.

Beaumont and Lopez were able to win their client one last mercy — an agreement from prosecutors that Thomas can remain on bond for an additional 72 hours while he settles his business affairs and says goodbye to his wife and 5-year-old daughter.

Zagel raised his eyebrows at the government’s concession on that point, but eventually agreed, making it clear he expects Thomas to stay under house arrest until he turns himself in.

“I really want him to stay at home,” Zagel said, stressing the word “really.”

Convicted of a billboard scam in New York in the late 1990s, Thomas changed his name and moved to Chicago in the last decade. He dismissed a string of failed high profile deals with trademark bonhomie, telling the Sun-Times in 2008 that Chicago was “the most forgiving.”

But in recent years, the feds say, there wasn’t a scam he didn’t try. In the short period since he learned he’d be charged with the Riverdale fraud alone, he’s pulled five other swindles, they allege, including an attempt to pay his former attorney with fake Babe Ruth baseballs.

Beaumont on Thursday said Thomas is now “penniless.” Both he and Lopez seemed eager to attend a hearing on Monday, at which Zagel will rule if they can be paid, in cash, from Thomas’s frozen account.

Email: kjanssen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @kimjnews