Rezko trial witness details extortion gone awry

June 4, 2008 1:52:13 PM PDT
More recorded phone conversations were played in court Wednesday at the corruption trial of Tony Rezko. Jurors heard the prosecution's star witness talking about a plot to extort money from an area financier.

Millionaire lawyer Stuart P. Levine was at the courthouse for his seventh day on the witness stand. Most of his testimony focused on events during May of 2004 as an alleged plot to extort money from North Shore financier Tom Rosenberg began to fall apart.

Levine, a member of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System board, says he and defendant Rezko with an assist from Democratic Party fundraiser Chris Kelly demanded that for Rosenberg's firm to receive a $220 million TRS investment, Rosenberg either must pay a $2 million bribe or make a $1.5 million contribution to the campaign fund of Governor Rod Blagojevich.

During a telephone conversation secretly taped by the FBI, Republican power broker William Cellini warned Levine that the angry Rosenberg might call in the feds. He told Levine not to do business with Rezko and Kelly because Rosenberg might call authorities.

Within two weeks after the call, Levine was arrested by the FBI. Rezko was indicted three months later. Cellini was not charged in the case.

Levine, who faces a prison term for his guilty plea, testified that he and Cellini had such influence over the teachers' $30 billion pension fund that the TRS director nicknamed Cellini "The Pope" and called Levine "The Rabbi."

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