Rezko trial witness says Obama attended party for billionaire

June 4, 2008 1:52:55 PM PDT
Illinois Senator Barack Obama's name came up Monday at the corruption trial of political fundraiser Tony Rezko.Stuart Levine, the government's key witness, said Obama and his wife attended a party at Rezko's home four years ago.

The rare Obama mention came during prosecution witness Levine's fourteenth day on the witness stand. Levine alleges that Obama, now a leading presidential candidate, was a guest at Rezko's North Shore home for a non-political event honoring a billionaire from overseas.

Levine, who has been the target of a blistering cross-examination, described an April 3, 2004 party at defendant Rezko's Wilmette mansion. The event was held as a welcome for visiting Iraqi-born billionaire Nadhmi Auchi, who Rezko wanted to be an investor in a planned development at Clark and Roosevelt in the South Loop.

On the witness stand, Levine testified that among the party guests were then-Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Obama, as well as sitting Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn. Levine said he did not see Governor Rod Blagojevich at the party.

Businessman and Democratic fundraiser Rezko is accused of scheming with Levine, then a member of two state boards, to extort money from companies trying to get state business.

Grilled by defense attorney Joseph Duffy, Levine testified he was not on the original guest list for the 2004 party. He said he was added after he met Rezko by chance in Mexico and flew Rezko's family back to the United States on Levine's chartered jet. In his questioning, Duffy clearly was trying to paint Levine as a corrupt Republican insider who in 2004, was trying to get as close as possible to Rezko, who was influential in the state's new Democrat administration.

Neither Senator Obama nor Governor Blagojevich is charged with any wrongdoing related to the Rezko case. Obama, the recipient of well over a $100,000 in Rezko-bundled campaign contributions, has donated all that money to charity.

The billionaire Auchi allegedly tried to wire Rezko $3 million as Rezko awaited trial. That attempt caused Judge Amy St. Eve to declare Rezko a flight risk, and that's why he is being held in the federal lockup during the trial.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said he could not comment immediately, but indicated he would do so shortly.

Rezko is charged with scheming with Levine to squeeze money management firms wanting state business for kickbacks and split a bribe. Rezko has denied that he took part in such a scheme.

Levine has pleaded guilty to the charges and taken the stand as the government's star witness in hopes of getting a lenient sentence.

Levine said very little about the party at Rezko's home or Obama's presence there.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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