CHINATOWN — Gene Lee, the beleaguered neighborhood leader who admitted to stealing $100,000 from two Chinatown charities, will avoid prison time, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
"I think Gene is pleased but he's remorseful and he's doing his best to move on ... he's going to do as much as he possibly can to support the community and support his charitable endeavors," said Lee's attorney Anthony Masciopinto.
Casey Cora says it was largely the support of the community which led to probation instead of jail time:
Lee, 65, is a former aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley who pleaded guilty to the felony charges in April after admitting to taking money — some $92,000 — raised for the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and for the Chinatown Dragons youth athletics and events group he founded.
Prosecutors said Lee cashed donation checks at a local restaurant, kept some of the money for himself and didn't pay taxes on it. He also falsified the amount of some hefty corporate donations, prosecutors said.
In court papers, Lee's attorney chalked it all up to "unsophisticated accounting."
Prosecutors had sought up to two years behind bars for Lee, who's been a mainstay in Chinatown civic circles.
But instead of prison time, Lee will serve five years of probation. He'll have to pay back $92,800 to the groups.
The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge John Darrah, who remarked about the outpouring of community support — in court papers, attorneys included about 150 sealed letters of support — along with Lee's ailing health.
Darrah called the outpouring of support "extraordinary," the Tribune reported.
“I’ve never seen anything like this," he told the packed court room, which reportedly erupted into cheers when it was announced Lee would avoid prison.
In a courtroom at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Lee "bowed to the judge and each corner of the courtroom in a traditional show of respect and contrition before apologizing for the thefts he said had caused him “guilt and shame and my public humiliation," the Sun-Times reports.
Masciopinto wrote in court documents that Lee's guilty plea had subjected the Vietnam War veteran and the founder of the Chinatown Dragons youth basketball teams, to a "very public shaming, jeopardizing his life's work, reputation, legacy and good name."
The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of Chicago declined comment.
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