After serving nearly a year in prison, former Niles Mayor Nicholas Blase is relieved his sentence ended Wednesday.
Blase spent about eight months in a federal prison camp in Duluth, Minn. and was transferred to a Chicago halfway house just before Christmas. He had been on home confinement for the past few weeks.
But now, he's free.
"I'm happy to be released and back in my normal life," he said Thursday.
He remains on probation, which means he has to fill out a written questionnaire about his whereabouts and general activities once a month and mail it to a probation officer.
His family held a small gathering to celebrate his release, but he doesn't have any larger celebrations on the horizon.
"A couple of restaurants in town have told me, 'put together 25 or 30 friends and go enjoy an evening,'" he said, though he hasn't made any such plans.
Blase said that, other than a sore back and sore shoulder, he is in fairly decent health.
Once he gets settled, he'd like to become active in the community again, though he is barred from holding elected office.
"I want to get involved with seniors, because that's what I am. I'm 82," he explained.
"I have to figure out if there's an area where I can devote two or three hours a day that would be beneficial to me and other people. I haven't decided what that would be yet."
The past few years have been tumultuous for the former mayor.
On Jan. 29, 2010, Judge Wayne Anderson sentenced Blase in federal court to one year and one day of prison time. The former mayor had pleaded guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion in October 2008.
Federal prosecutors said in court that, during Blase's 47-year tenure as Niles mayor, he pressured Niles business owners to buy insurance from Ralph Weiner and Associates, a Wheeling insurance broker, and accepted kickback payments from Weiner. Prosecutors said Blase received $421,000 over a 10-year period in kickbacks and they had evidence the fraud scheme took place over 30 years.
As a way to make partial restitution, Blase donated $250,000 to each of three Niles school districts around the time of his sentencing.