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Witness describes more alleged Rezko bribe setups

March 20, 2008 3:52:35 PM PDT
Stuart Levine was back on the witness stand Thursday in the corruption trial of Tony Rezko. Levine spoke in great detail about his dealings with Rezko in a hospital construction project.

After hearing several days of Levine testimony, it's beginning to seem that everything he did included some element of corruption. So far in all his stories, he remains the front man, the principal actor in the schemes.

Levine returned for his third day of testimony. The government witness already has pleaded guilty, hoping to get a lesser federal prison sentence. The jury did not appear sleepy or bored as the former millionaire lawyer and political fundraiser recounted his last months on the Illinois Hospital Facilities Planning Board.

Prosecutors allege the panel was controlled by defendant Rezko, a major fundraiser for Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Levine testified that two of the kickback schemes engineered by himself and Rezko involved contractor Jacob Keiferbaum who wanted to build hospitals in Crystal Lake and Plainfield, and who promised to pay at least $1 million on each contract if the planning board would approve the projects.

In an FBI-recorded phone conversation between Levine and Keiferbaum, Levine is heard praising Rezko. "This guy is making decisions and can get anything done that he wants done."

And on the witness stand, Levine testified that "although I have been involved in politics and in corrupt political deals before, I had never witnessed someone who was able to influence the governor as I saw that Mr. Rezko could."

Levine also remembered how he and Kiferbaum lured a hospital company executive to a North Shore restaurant where planning board member Levine conveniently dined at a nearby table. He testified they were trying to send the executive a message that the fix was in.

Kiferbaum has pleaded guilty in the case. Blagojevich has not been charged with wrongdoing.

It should be mentioned that none of the hospital bribes involved in this case was ever paid as the FBI investigation was well underway cracking those schemes before they actually were hatched.

The government's star witness said that in early 2003 Rezko was opposed to Mercy Health System's plan to build the hospital in McHenry County's Crystal Lake.

Levine said Rezko's turnabout came at a meeting in the fundraiser's office.

"I said, 'Would it make a difference if you and I could make a lot of money if Mercy got its CON?" Levine testified Thursday, referring to the "certificate of need" the board must issue before any new hospital construction is launched in Illinois.

"You bet!" Levine quoted Rezko as saying.

A week before the key planning board meeting where the project was pushed through, Levine said, he met Rezko for dinner at the Standard Club in downtown Chicago and again brought up the subject.

"I described how the bribe would be split," Levine testified. "One half for Mr. Rezko and one half for me."

Levine said he still hadn't finalized the specifics with Kiferbaum.

"He (Kiferbaum) had already agreed it would be between $1 million and $1.5 million and I told Mr. Rezko at the meeting it would be $1.5 million," Levine testified.

The measure went through the board a week later with the bare minimum five votes needed for approval. All five were from board members who had been sponsored for their seats by Rezko.

But Rezko's attorneys say he never ordered anybody to approve the hospital project and he never agreed to accept a bribe. They say Levine's memory is unreliable because he was a heavy drug user at the time.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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