Rudy Acosta III, a onetime gangster rap impresario and real estate mogul known for the castle-like home he built along the Kennedy Expressway, was sentenced to one year in prison Tuesday for trafficking hundreds of kilograms of cocaine before flipping and helping prosecutors build cases against his suppliers.
The sentencing before U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman wrapped up an extraordinary legal saga that began nearly eight years ago when Acosta was arrested and accused in a dramatic court hearing with threatening to kill the wife and children of a courier he thought had stolen his cocaine.
Later, Acosta made the dangerous decision to cooperate against figures with connections to Mexican cartels, an effort so sensitive it had to be kept from his then-criminal defense attorney out of worry the information would be leaked on the street, according to records and in-court statements Tuesday.
Acosta’s predicament also led to the cooperation of his father, Rudy Acosta Sr., a longtime precinct captain for then-14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke, who helped develop evidence in a sprawling public corruption probe against a number of elected officials and political operatives, prosecutors said.
In all, prosecutors said, the younger Acosta’s cooperation led either directly or indirectly to 36 people being federally charged, including public corruption and major drug cases that involved more than a dozen wiretaps and the seizure of several million dollars in drug proceeds and 100 kilograms of cocaine and heroin.
“Mr. Acosta has been one of the most prolific and successful cooperators with our office probably in the last decade or so,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Erskine said told Gettleman in asking for a term of three years in prison.
Acosta had faced up to life in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. But now, with time already served after his arrest, he is essentially eligible for immediate release to a halfway house.
Dressed in a dark suit and wearing black-rimmed eyeglasses, Acosta, 47, who went by the name “King Rudy,” cut a much more contrite figure than the muscle-bound, tattooed and gun-toting image he once projected.
Before the sentence was handed down, Acosta, the father of five including triplets who just started college, apologized profusely for his actions, saying in a sometimes-tearful statement that he would not let the court down if given a second chance to “be the best father I can be.”
“I’m holding on by a thread, your honor, and I’m praying to god for strength to work has hard as I possibly can to make it through another day,” Acosta said, pausing to choke back tears.
Acosta pleaded guilty in April to a single count of narcotics trafficking, admitting in a plea agreement with prosecutors that he coordinated the distribution of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine dating back to the 1990s, establishing stash houses around the Chicago area and working his way up the chain with Mexico-based suppliers.
In a court filing earlier this month, Erskine called Acosta “a significant Chicago-based drug dealer with a long roster of customers.” But he also cited Acosta’s detailed undercover work, which required secretly recording conversations and later testifying at a trial earlier this year that ended in the convictions of two of his former suppliers.
The alleged leader of the narcotics ring, Pablo Anibal Vazquez-Duarte, also known as “Compa,” was indicted due to Acosta’s cooperation and remains a fugitive in Mexico.
When Acosta was arrested in December 2015, he was represented by well-known Chicago attorney Joseph Lopez, who unsuccessfully argued for bond.
Six months later, Acosta was released on a $2 million bond secured partly by his father’s home on the city’s Southwest Side. By that point, Steinback said he had been quietly brought into the case without Lopez’s knowledge because it was believed Lopez, a noted Chicago mob lawyer who goes by the nickname “The Shark” might leak sensitive information to other drug dealers.
Steinback said the prospect of Lopez spilling that Acosta was cooperating put him and his family in serious danger, particularly from Vazquez-Duarte who was “as about as dangerous a human being as there is living.”
“There is an ugliness in this case with that connection,” Steinback said. “How do you go forward when you are trapped with a lawyer who thinks that snitches are cowards?”
What’s more, Steinback said, in advance of Acosta’s trial testimony in April, Lopez posted on social media that the Acostas were “a family of rats” and called Acosta “King Fruity Tutti Rudy.” Lopez’s wife, Lisa, represented one of the defendants in that case.
Gettleman said he found Lopez’s conduct “totally reprehensible” and asked if anything was done about it. Erskine responded that prosecutors took steps to handle it, but didn’t elaborate.
“Well I hope there are consequences for that…I don’t get that at all,” Gettleman said. “Why a lawyer would do something like that and put his former client’s life in jeopardy is just unbelievable.”
Reached by phone after the hearing, Lopez denied any wrongdoing and said the government never came to him with any such concerns.
“It was no secret,” Lopez said. “Everybody on the street knew Rudy was snitching the minute he walked out of jail.”
Acosta, meanwhile, has a long and colorful past that stretches back to the early 2000s, when he founded Legion Records, a rap label that worked with stars such as Kanye West and R. Kelly but has since folded.
He became best known for the 7,000-square-foot, five-bedroom home he built in the Independence Park neighborhood. The Tribune detailed in its 2008 series Neighborhoods for Sale the home was built after a lawyer from the politically connected Banks family won zoning variances at City Hall.
The house was left uncompleted and eventually was foreclosed on by the bank in 2011 after Acosta filed for bankruptcy, records show. It was later purchased by a private owner, who finished construction.
Acosta was also in the news for run-ins with the law. In 2004, Acosta was arrested for allegedly pointing a gun through the window of his car at Archer Avenue and Pulaski Road, records show. Chicago police later said they found four guns, and $112,000 in cash hidden in a safe in his home. But the charges were dropped because the police who arrested him were part of the corrupt Special Operations Section.
In a recent court filing asking for leniency, Steinback said Acosta lives a quiet family life in Homer Glen, coaches youth sports and works for a trucking company he founded with his wife.
Gettleman said it was admirable that Acosta had turned his life around, but that “the amount of drugs that you were dealing was almost of the charts really.”
“You were a different person then, obviously, than you are now, but there has to be some kind of consequence for that,” the judge said.
Acosta’s father, who was estranged from his son for years, spent decades around some of Chicago’s most colorful — and allegedly corrupt — politicians, watching as a succession of his political mentors were hit with federal charges.
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Among them was Ald. Fred Roti, the mob-connected leader of the old 1st Ward who went to prison for bribery, former State Sen. Martin Sandoval, who pleaded guilty to bribery before dying of COVID-19 complications in 2020, and Burke, who is going on trial on sweeping racketeering charges in November.
Acosta Sr., 72, pleaded guilty to misleading the FBI in a series of interviews in 2017 and 2018 about its investigation into Sandoval and other elected officials. He was given probation.
The elder Acosta is now suffering from a form of dementia and wasn’t in court Tuesday, where new details of his own cooperation came to light.
Steinback said that Acosta’s father was instrumental in gaining the confidence of the Mexican drug traffickers’ his son was working with, and was eventually able to convince them that his son was not snitching.
The father even befriended a local drug dealer and would often invite him into his home, where he would cook meals and socialize with them. He eventually convinced that dealer to go to Mexico “and tell the people there that Rudy is coming out and he’s getting back in business and you can deal with him,” Steinback said.
“It was the most extraordinary undertaking,” Steinback said. “Without (Acosta) senior’s efforts, which took some months, we wouldn’t be in this posture.”