Crime & Courts

Kiferbaum faces prison time for role in aborted Mercy hospital project

The contractor who offered a kickback in exchange for getting the contract to build a new hospital in Crystal Lake has pleaded guilty in an amended deal.

Jacob Kiferbaum pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to attempted extortion for telling the administrator of a Naperville hospital that the state would not approve its plans for a new hospital unless his firm was awarded the construction contract.

Kiferbaum is the last defendant to be sentenced as part of Operation Board Games, the federal corruption investigation that resulted in the 2011 conviction of former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Kiferbaum could face slightly more than two years in prison when sentenced July 17.

He first pleaded guilty in 2005, but his sentencing had been been postponed over the years in the event that prosecutors needed him to testify against other defendants. He was never called to do so.

Janesville, Wis.-based Mercy Health System announced plans in 2003 to build a 70-bed hospital at Route 31 and Three Oaks Road in Crystal Lake. But the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, the agency in charge at the time of granting permission to build hospitals, voted 8-0 against the plan.

The board concluded the proposed facility was too small and too close to other hospitals.

Mercy went back in April 2004 before the board, which changed its mind about its previous intent to deny and approved the project by one vote. But that one vote sparked suspicions of corruption – one member had voted “present” before fellow board member Stuart Levine went up to him and whispered, “Tony wants this done today.”

Federal prosecutors later detailed that “Tony” was former Blagojevich fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who planned to split a $1.5 million kickback from Kiferbaum with Levine.

Mercy officials were never charged with any wrongdoing, but a McHenry County judge threw out the planning board’s approval of the project. Mercy has made subsequent attempts to build a hospital at the Crystal Lake location, which the successor authority, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, has denied.

Blagojevich was one of 15 people convicted as part of Operation Board Games. He began serving his 14-year sentence in March 2012 at a low-security federal prison in Littleton, Colo.

Rezko was sentenced in 2011 to 10 1/2 years for corruption, minus almost four years for time served. A judge sentenced Levine last year to a reduced sentence of 5 1/2 years for his cooperation with prosecutors. While prosecutors never called Kiferbaum or Rezko to testify, Levine’s testimony was essential to the convictions of Blagojevich, Rezko and several other Operation Board Games defendants.

The final conviction to come from the investigation was that of former Republican powerbroker William Cellini. He began serving his one-year sentence in January at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. – the same prison where former Republican Gov. George Ryan served 5 1/2 years for corruption.

Blagojevich was the seventh Illinois governor to be indicted, and the first to be impeached and removed from office. 

• The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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