EAST ST. LOUIS - A bankruptcy fraud case against Joseph Diekemper was settled Monday with a 10-year prison sentence, but the killings of two potential witnesses against him remain under investigation.
Authorities have said that Diekemper hid a tractor behind the false wall of a barn belonging to George and Linda Weedon, of Bond County. Two days after agreeing to talk to the FBI, but expressing fear that their house would be torched, the Weedons were fatally shot and their house burned in April 2007.
Diekemper's lawyer has denied that his client had anything to do with the deaths. An Illinois State Police spokesman declined Monday to say whether Diekemper is a person of interest in the case.
The sentence of 10 years and one month in prison for Diekemper, 61, a farmer who lives near Carlyle, is the maximum under federal guidelines without invoking a provision to add time for aggravating factors.
Diekemper has admitted hiding or undervaluing millions in assets and income.
While not at issue in Monday's hearing in East St. Louis, the killings got a passing reference from U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy when he noted that long-sought weapons linked to Diekemper had been found hidden as recently as last week. "I don't know how this ties into the murders, if at all," the judge said.
Murphy said a tough sentence was needed as a deterrent. He said evidence indicated that Diekemper had lured several relatives and friends into the fraud.
Murphy sharply criticized him from the bench for having "a total disrespect for the law." The judge noted, "This was not a one-time, thoughtless, stupid act."
Diekemper pleaded guilty in November about a week after his wife, Margaret Diekemper, 65, pleaded guilty of bank fraud conspiracy.
She was sentenced last month to serve two years on probation, pay a $500 fine and not have any contact with her husband. She could have faced more than four years in prison but had cooperated with authorities.
In sentencing Margaret Diekemper, Judge Murphy had called her a good mother and hard worker who had never been in trouble before but got drawn in by her husband's overbearing manner.
Joseph Diekemper's voice sometimes broke Monday as he read a statement of apology. "I'm a failure because I betrayed the love of my family and friends," he said. "With the short time I have left, I pray that I can get a second chance."
Prosecutors alleged that the Diekempers failed to report major gambling losses, fraudulently titled a Ford Expedition SUV in their daughter's name and fraudulently obtained farm subsidies from the Department of Agriculture.
Gilbert Sison, an attorney for Joseph Diekemper, argued for leniency. He said Diekemper had no prior criminal record and had helped the Future Farmers of America high school program and did charitable work.
"He believed you gained through hard work," Sison said. "This is the Mr. Diekemper I want this court to see."
He added that Diekemper still grieved for a son who died in a farm accident 10 years ago.
But Jennifer Hudson, an assistant U.S. attorney, said he deserved tough treatment. She said he lost more than $100,000 in more than 100 trips to casinos, when he could have used the money to help bring his farm out of bankruptcy.
"He's very adept at playing the system," Hudson said. "This defendant has no regard for anyone other than himself."