CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Chuck Panici said he can prove his innocence in a presentation that doubled as a book launch Thursday night in the Prarie State College conference center.
The mayor of Chicago Heights from 1975 until 1991, Panici was convicted and spent 10 years in a Minnesota prison for extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from municipal contractors during his time in office.
He and former City Council members John Gliottoni Jr. and Louise Marshall were convicted of taking more than $600,000 in bribes.
Panici was ordered to pay $1.1 million in restitution.
"I know it. I lived it. I want to get the story out," Panici said. "The prosecutors lied. There's no pretty way of saying it. They were not telling the truth."
Panici, who still lives in Chicago Heights, released a book in April titled "From Hero To Zero: How the Feds and a Mafia Wannabe Took a Good Man Down." He spoke to a sympathetic crowd of about 70.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Gair prosecuted Panici. Gair was the subject of many of Panici's more emotional attacks Thursday.
"A prosecutor can ruin a person's career. They can ruin a person's reputation," Panici said. "For some people, they can ruin a family, but they didn't do that with us."
Many of Panici's children and grandchildren were in attendance. At one point, his son, Charles Panici, stood to discuss the case.
"This happened to us and nobody will ever understand it because it didn't happen to them," he said.
Much of Panici's argument pertained to Nick LoBue, a former Chicago Heights councilman and associate of Panici's. LoBue also served as Panici's finance commissioner.
LoBue was the prosecution's star witness in its case against Panici. He outlined extortion and and bribery schemes, claiming Panici was the mastermind.
"The money stops with LoBue," Panici said.
Panici admitted that the chances of having his conviction overturned was minimal. He's now fighting for his legacy, he said.
"I know what they did. I still haven't figured out why they did it," Panici said. "I'm not giving up."