Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama's Mentor Found Guilty of 16 Counts

From Chicago Sun-Times on June 4, 2008: "Tony Rezko — the high-flying developer and fast-food magnate who was once a major campaign fund-raiser for Gov. Blagojevich and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama and one of the governor’s closest advisers — is now a convicted felon.

A federal jury in Chicago convicted Rezko this afternoon on 16 of 24 charges he faced in a political corruption trial that cast a harsh light on the Blagojevich administration.
The verdict, reached after deliberations that spanned 12 days, could give federal authorities new ammunition in their probe of the governor’s campaign and his administration. They already have subpoenaed Blagojevich’s campaign fund, scrutinized his donors, looked into his wife’s real estate dealings and questioned potential witnesses about whether they were promised anything in return for campaign contributions, sources told the Sun-Times.

Now, facing the prospect of prison time in the corruption case, as well as two additional criminal trials on unrelated charges, Rezko is under pressure to cooperate with the continuing investigations.

Among those in the crowded courtoom as the verdict was read were Rezko’s family, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and Robert Grant, the agent-in-charge of the Chicago FBI office.

Rezko wore a crisp, taupe-colored suit and a red tie to court. It was the same tie he wore the first day of the trial. His two sons entered the courtroom with him, sporting new crewcuts.

Rezko’s two-month trial began March 3. Rezko, 52, of Wilmette, was charged with 24 counts that included taking kickbacks tied to state business, money-laundering, attempted extortion, mail fraud and wire fraud. Prosecutors aid he schemed with co-defendant Stuart Levine to get and split kickbacks from projects tied to two boards on which Levine sat.

Levine pleaded guilty and was the prosecution’s star witness. He testified for 15 days.

The jury began its deliberations three weeks ago, but met 12 times, and broke early for half days on three of those occasions.

Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy had urged jurors in his closing argument not to convict Rezko based on Levine’s words, portraying him as an admitted “liar and thief and a drug user and a con-man.”

Levine testified that, in one case, he and Rezko agreed to split a $1.5 million kickback from a disputed $81 million proposal for a new hospital in Crystal Lake. The project needed a nod from a state hospital planning board that numbered Levine among its members. Levine also testified that, in another case, he promised to divert $3.9 million in kickbacks from business related to the state Teachers’ Retirement System, which handles teacher pensions. Levine also was a member of that state board.

Rezko still faces trial in a $10 million business-loan fraud case in Chicago federal court, as well as Las Vegas charges that he didn’t pay $450,000 in casino-gambling debts."