CHICAGO --For the first time, the jury in the corruption trial of political fundraiser Tony Rezko heard from the defendant Friday.Rezko was not on the witness stand. It was an audio tape from an FBI wire tap. The government clearly now is moving into the heart of its case. Prosecutors played secretly recorded FBI tapes of phone conversations involving Rezko and the corrupt lawyer/businessman Stuart Levine. On the witness stand, Levine testified that he called defendant Rezko at Rezko's Wilmette mansion the morning of April 24, 2004. Levine told the jury he was excited about a potential opportunity to run another kickback scheme - this one related to the planned $500 million reconstruction of Children's Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park. "I wanted to uh, to uh to talk a little bit about, about, about uh some stuff that may need to be done and may be a giant opportunity also," Levine says on a taped call. "Very good," Rezko replies. Former Republican fundraiser Levine, who has pleaded guilty in the case and is a government witness against Rezko, was a member of the state's hospital planning board in 2004. He says after Rod Blagojevich became governor in 2003, the Democrat fundraiser Rezko steered the appointments of enough new board members to take control of the panel. Levine has testified that he and Rezko used the majority to demand kickbacks from a contractor in exchange for the planning board's approval of hospital projects. While Rezko never claims ownership of any extortion plot, during one taped conversation he is heard discussing planning board business. He wants Levine and other members to follow the leadership of board chairman Tom Beck. "I'd rather keep it through Tom Beck," says Rezko in a May 18, 2004 call. "I didn't mean for myself to be involved," replies Levine. "I know. You know why I'm doing it, for good reason," Rezko says. "Sure," says Levine. "I mean you and I will still do what we need to do," says Rezko. The Children's Hospital kickback scheme never got off the ground. Levine will return to the witness stand March 31, after the court takes a one week spring break. Prosecutors have a lot more tapes to play for the jury. It's unknown to what extent we will hear Tezko's voice again.
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