A Park Ridge accountant was sentenced to six months in prison Tuesday for his role in defrauding the Chicago Cubs out of revenue owed by a Wrigley Field rooftop club as well as a separate scheme to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from an elderly client fighting cancer.
In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin told Joseph Gurdak that it was the embezzlement of nearly $400,000 from his longtime client, Christine Shaw, that earned him prison time, not his role in the high-profile rooftop scam.
"Quite frankly, if this were just about the Cubs, incarceration wouldn't even be on the table," Durkin said. "But the theft from Ms. Shaw took place over years. ... You were a friend, and she trusted you."
Gurdak, 73, pleaded guilty last year to mail fraud and filing a false tax return. He admitted in a plea agreement with prosecutors he helped former Skybox on Sheffield rooftop owner R. Marc Hamid file false statements with the Cubs that underreported attendance between 2008 and 2011, costing the team about $250,000 in royalties.
He also admitted failing to report the money he'd stolen from Shaw — shorting the Internal Revenue Service by about $39,000, court records show.
Before he was sentenced, Gurdak stood in Durkin's packed courtroom and read a tearful apology to Shaw, seated in the front row of the gallery, as well as his friends and family.
"Somewhere along the way, I lost my way," Gurdak said in a voice barely above a whisper, clutching a sheet of paper in a quivering hand. "There is nothing to justify what I did. ... I'm embarrassed. I'm ashamed."
The charges against Gurdak arose out of the investigation into the Skybox on Sheffield rooftop club. Gurdak had served as an accountant for Hamid.Ex-Wrigley rooftop club owner is sentenced to prison for cheating the Cubs
R. Marc Hamid, the former owner of a rooftop club across the street from Wrigley Field, was found guilty of underreporting attendance and revenue at Skybox on Sheffield.
R. Marc Hamid, the former owner of a rooftop club across the street from Wrigley Field, was found guilty of underreporting attendance and revenue at Skybox on Sheffield.See more videos
Hamid was found guilty by a jury last year of under-reporting attendance and revenue at the rooftop overlooking right field through a variety of schemes, including "zeroing out" invoices and charging customers through one of his ticket brokerages, Just Great Seats and Just Great Tickets, instead of the rooftop business itself.
The phony numbers meant the Cubs did not get as much in royalty payments as the 17 percent of gross annual revenues called for under terms of the rooftop owners' agreement with the team.
According to prosecutors, Gurdak submitted false sales tax returns to the state of Illinois and amusement tax returns to Cook County and the city of Chicago for those years, failing to report about $1.5 million in sales.
Hamid was sentenced in January to 18 months in prison. Another defendant, former Oak Park cop Richard Zasiebida, admitted that he pocketed cash at the door from fans who wanted a seat at the venue. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 18.
Gurdak was not accused of profiting in the scheme and cooperated with a grand jury investigation. But before he was charged, Shaw came forward with information that Gurdak, who had served as her personal accountant for more than 15 years, had been stealing money from her checking account, court records show.
Investigators looked into Shaw's claims and found that between 2011 and 2013, Gurdak had used the stolen funds to pay his own credit card bills as well as cut checks to a hobby store where he purchased toy trains for his collection, prosecutors said in a recent court filing.
Gurdak's attorney, Steven Fritzshall, said Tuesday that Gurdak had worked hard to pay the money back with the help of family and friends.
"My client begged, borrowed and ..." Fritzshall said before catching himself. "Well, he didn't steal."
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