Published on July 31st, 2013 | by Daniel R. Perlman0
Man who stole settlement money from relatives gets 7 1/2 years
Rahshone Burnett was supposed to use the millions of dollars won by his young nieces and nephews in a settlement for a wrongful-death lawsuit to ensure that they thrived after the tragedy of losing their mother and brother in a 2001 fire.
Instead, prosecutors say, Burnett stole more than $1 million and blew it on flashy cars, jewelry, even guns and a stash house for his burgeoning drug business. When authorities finally caught up with the scheme, Burnett was living lavishly in a home in the suburbs while his relatives languished in relative poverty on Chicago’s West Side.
Burnett, 34, remained expressionless Monday as U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly sentenced him to 7 1/2 years in prison. His attorneys had asked for leniency, arguing that many of his purchases were for the benefit of his nieces and nephews, but the judge called those explanations “a fat pile of baloney.”
“I think it’s fair to say he saw his opportunities and he took them,” the judge said. “He saw a big pile of money and he used it to sort of live the life, if you will.”
Burnett pleaded guilty in March to five counts of mail and wire fraud. Before he was sentenced, he read a long statement to the court apologizing for his actions.
“I know stealing from them kids was wrong, and I’m ashamed of it,” he said.
Burnett said he’d “felt pretty good” about himself for stepping up after the fire and taking in his sister’s five surviving children despite limited means. By the time of the $5.75 million settlement five years later, he said, “I started feeling entitled to stuff.”
Despite the wrongdoing, some of Burnett’s victims came to his support at his sentencing. His niece, Krishonna Bond, now 20, said her uncle was like a father to her and that even though he’d stolen their money, he belonged at home with them.
“Let him come home to us,” said Bond, sobbing. “Everybody makes mistakes. We just got to move on.”
Burnett’s sister, Shlonzo, and her 1-year-old son died when their building at the Harold Ickes complex caught fire in 2001. Investigators later determined that the fifth-floor unit had no smoke detector. An inspector with a Chicago Housing Authority contractor managing the property admitted in a deposition to falsifying a report showing that there was a detector.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen Merin called Burnett’s actions “a staggering abuse of trust and manipulation of the justice system.”
“That settlement was supposed to set them up for life,” Merin said. “They were supposed to want for nothing.”
Burnett’s attorney, Beau Brindley, compared his client to professional athletes, lottery winners and others of modest means who suddenly come into great sums of money and have trouble spending wisely. In a recent court filing, Brindley likened Burnett to a dog accustomed to eating only cheap, dry dog food.
“Then place that dog before a platter of steak that is meant to feed four dogs,” Brindley wrote. “Under those circumstances, the excitement of that dog is, without question, going to compel him to eat more than his share.”
Source: chicagotribune.com “Man who stole settlement money from relatives gets 7 1/2 years,” July 31, 2013.