Kathleen Niew, a former Chicago attorney convicted of fraud, will spend six years in federal prison for stealing more than $2.3 million from her clients.
Prosecutors said Niew led an Oak Park couple to believe she would hold the money for them for use at closings on commercial real estate deals but then misappropriated the money for herself, financing purchases of gold mining operations around the globe in an ill-fated scheme to garner hefty finder’s fees. The couple, Jamal and Leda Khoury, never saw the money again. U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said Niew’s risky investments were tantamount to “putting it all on some long shot” at the racetrack. Prosecutors had sought a 10-year prison term for Niew, who had pleaded guilty to 10 counts of fraud last June. Before her indictment, she was a self-styled real estate and probate law guru known for her Saturday morning call-in radio show on WIND-AM 560. The judge said Niew’s betrayal of her clients played a part in his decision to sentence her to five years and 10 months in prison. He also ordered her to pay restitution of $2.34 million, but it was unclear if Niew would be able to come up with any of the money. “Something has to be done when a case like this comes up,” he said. Leinenweber also found Niew responsible for defrauding another client out of $500,000. Niew had led the client to believe she needed the money for her upcoming divorce proceedings, but prosecutors said that the divorce was a fiction and that Niew blew the money in the same way. Niew, 58, rose unsteadily to address the judge, asking for forgiveness from both Leinenweber and the victims. “It’s my fault that the money is gone,” Niew said. “What I thought was taking place was not what was taking place. I regret every action that was taken.” Niew turned to face Leda Khoury, saying, “I do ask for your forgiveness.” Khoury’s husband did not attend the court hearing. Prosecutors said Niew repeatedly lied about what happened to the money, producing fake documents to cover her tracks and assuring the couple that they would be making a large profit on their investment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sunil Harjani said Niew continually displayed “greed and arrogance.” “All she did was lie to conceal and throw people off her scent so she could get away with this,” Harjani said. “Her time has come.” Niew’s attorney, Thomas Breen, pointed out that Jamal Khoury faces charges in the same courthouse. He was indicted in November for wire fraud in an alleged food stamp scam while operating a Chicago grocery store. Leda Khoury tearfully read a lengthy statement to the judge at the hearing, saying Niew’s deceit humiliated her family and caused great emotional pain in addition to the heavy financial loss. “Mrs. Niew had no moral or legal red lines that she was not prepared to cross in pursuit of her deception,” Khoury said. Khoury said the loss of the money prevented her from providing medical care for her ailing father and forced her to stop in vitro fertilization treatments in an effort to have a child. “We had no idea we were hiring a thief lying in wait for her next victim,” Khoury said. “We blame ourselves for trusting her so blindly.” Originally posted by Patrick M. O’Connell on Chicagotribune.com. Also posted on the