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Former E.C. leader Cantrell plans to re-enter politics after prison

Former E.C. leader Cantrell plans to re-enter politics after prison

Politico: Fraud conviction won't stop aspirations

As longtime political operative Bob Cantrell sees it, he's currently on the inactive list and eager to get back in the game.

A member of East Chicago Washington High School's 1960 state champion basketball team, a Trester Award winner and starting guard on the University of Michigan's 1964 Final Four team, Cantrell is confined to the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Ky. He is serving a 78-month sentence for defrauding the taxpayers of North Township.

Coming across as positive and upbeat during a phone interview with The Times, Cantrell sounded like anything but a retired region politician with more than 40 years service.

"An old friend of mine, Jay Given, told me once that when the feds put a target on your back, just give up and say: 'Take me.' When they say U.S. Government versus Robert Cantrell ... a jury looked at it, and I was guilty before I even had a chance," said Cantrell, who once served as the East Chicago Republican Party chairman.

"It's not a heinous crime. My crime was more of income tax evasion, which I think the judge went a little overboard in giving me 78 months," Cantrell said. "That's why my appeal should work because there's people who do a lot of things -- robbery, guns, drugs -- who get 40 months. What did I really do?"

He was convicted in June 2008 of four counts of depriving the public of honest services, three counts of insurance fraud using the U.S. mail and four counts of filing false tax returns between 2000 and 2003.

"Some woman said I gave her cash, but she couldn't tell how much or when," Cantrell added. "She got home detention instead of four years in jail. Ever hear of such a thing?"

Through a network of mutual friends, Cantrell said he has heard fugitive Frankie Kollintzas, a former East Chicago city councilman, is now running a successful business in Greece.

Kollintzas, a fellow E.C. Washington classmate and one-time Highland boys basketball coach, was among a dozen former East Chicago city officials and vendors convicted of misappropriating more than $24 million in public funds to pay for sidewalks and free tree-trimming services to curry favor with voters in the city's 1999 mayoral election.

He fled the country days before his Feb. 25, 2005, sentencing and is believed to be hiding in Greece.

Cantrell said he believes the sentencing in both of their cases was extreme. Kollintzas was sentenced to 11 years and 4 months in federal prison in his own absence.

Asked if he'll return to politics when he's a free man, the 68-year-old Cantrell didn't hesitate answering.

"Yes, of course. I'm not going to run away from it. That's what may have got me here, but I've got a lot of friends out there," Cantrell said. "(Thomas) Philpot's running now (for Lake County sheriff), and I think I'll be missed in that race. That circuit court judge's race (between Merrillville Town Court Judge George Paras and Alex Dominguez) is going to be a good one, too. Some people get a little power, and they get carried away.

"My mother died at 96 last year. My dad was in his 80s, so I'm going to live a while. I don't plan on dying now. I plan on being around another 25 to 30 years. Tell them I'll be back."

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