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Updated: Marion mall, Blue Sky Vineyards owner to be released from prison next week

Updated: Marion mall, Blue Sky Vineyards owner to be released from prison next week

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Update: June 19, 11:06 a.m.

CARBONDALE — Although the Federal Bureau of Prisons lists Barrett Rochman’s location as a residential reentry center based in St. Louis, Rochman said Friday he has been in Southern Illinois since May 11.

Rochman said he spent 11 days at a halfway house in Marion, and was released to his home on May 22, where he will remain on house arrest until June 27. Rochman was sentenced to 16 months on March 25, 2014, for his participation in a bid-rigging scheme in Madison County. He served 12 months at the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion.

Rochman, one of five owners of the Illinois Star Centre Mall, said one of his primary goals coming out of prison is securing the health of the mall. Rochman is the only owner of the mall based in Southern Illinois.

“When the mall fails, I’m failing,” he said. “I’d love to make it prosper. I’d like to set it right.”

Original story:

CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois real estate tycoon Barrett Rochman — tagged by a judge as the “alpha dog” in a Madison County bid-rigging scheme that bilked millions from financially distressed homeowners — is scheduled to be released from prison on June 27.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Rochman, 72, was recently transferred to a residential re-entry center in St. Louis, where federal inmates typically spend several weeks before their scheduled release date.

Rochman was sentenced on March 25, 2014, to 16 months in prison and fined $30,000. He was assigned to the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion. A call to the Bureau of Prisons to inquire about the terms of his scheduled release was not immediately returned on Thursday afternoon.

Rochman was one of three tax buyers to plead guilty to violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by orchestrating a scheme by which — in exchange for campaign contributions to now-imprisoned Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon — they were given front row seats and preferential treatment for their shouted bids at property tax auctions.

At sentencing, District Judge David Herndon said Rochman purchased the most liens and gave the largest amount of campaign cash to Bathon. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Rochman told the judge at sentencing he was not motivated by greed but by “a need to feel important.”

The auctions are used by the county to collect unpaid property taxes, with the bidder offering the lowest interest rate the ability to pay the taxes and obtain a lien against the property owner.

Homeowners then must repay the lien holder the money plus interest or they forfeit their property. During this time, most of the liens were sold at 18 percent — the maximum rate allowed by law. Rochman raked in more than $1 million from the rigged auctions, and in all, owners of more than 7,000 parcels paid roughly $4 million more than they should have because of the scheme, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

The other tax buyers who pleaded guilty in the scheme were John Vassen, of O’Fallon, who was sentenced to 24 months, and Scott McLean, of Belleville, who got 18 months. Bathon was sentenced to 30 months.

Because he was a leader in the scheme, the judge said at sentencing he also considered giving Rochman 30 months but gave him a lighter sentence because of his philanthropic activities, and after receiving numerous letters of support.

The scheme took place between 2005 and 2008, and was the subject of investigative reports by the Belleville News-Democrat. In 2007, Rochman, Vassen, McLean and two other investors — Dennis Ballinger, of Decatur, and Scott Sieron, of Belleville, secured a lien on the mall in Marion (not including the anchor stores or parking lot) at a tax sale in Williamson County, and their group, Illinois Star Centre, LLC, became its owners in 2011. All five owners of the mall are named in pending class-action lawsuits filed by homeowners in Madison and St. Clair counties.

The Southern Illinoisan documented troubles at the mall in March, including its numerous empty store fronts and lack of upkeep. Shortly after the article appeared, signs advertising many empty spaces for lease by the leasing agent The Sansone Group came down, and sale and leasing information fliers were removed from The Sansone Group’s website.

In addition to the mall, Rochman owns numerous other properties across Southern Illinois, including Blue Sky Vineyards in Makanda, as well as mineral rights on dozens of acres of land in Williamson County.

He is also known for having built, in the late 1990s, the fantasy-themed Jeremy “Boo” Rochman Memorial Park on Giant City Road in honor of his deceased teenage son, and for decades, until its closure in 2006, owned Fred’s Dance Barn in Carterville, a hotspot for country line dancing that featured a mechanical bull and a rare bring-your-own booze policy.

Molly.Parker@TheSouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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