Hollywood producer testifies against Rezko

June 4, 2008 1:48:19 PM PDT
There was a touch of Hollywood Thursday at the corruption trial of political fundraiser Tony Rezko. Thomas Rosenberg, the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby" was on the witness stand.

Chicago-born movie producer Rosenberg said he met Rezko once a few years ago with a handshake and smile that lasted only a few seconds. For a reason unexplained in court, he was granted immunity from prosecution in return for his truthful testimony that included some shady deals of his own:

The 61-year-old Rosenberg, who now lives in Los Angeles or his ranch in Idaho, is best known as a Hollywood producer who won the 2004 Best Picture Oscar for "Million Dollar Baby."

But also during 2004, Rosenberg testified he still was part owner of Capri Capital, a North Shore asset management firm that invested hundreds of millions of dollars for the Illinois Teachers Retirement System. He told the jury that in February, 2004, he and his partners could not understand why TRS refused to renew Capri's allocation of $220 million. Then Rosenberg said he spoke to Republican powerbroker William Cellini, who told him that Democratic Party fundraisers Rezko and Chris Kelly "put a brick on the activity of Capri with TRS," until Rosenberg made a political contribution to then-newly elected Governor Rod Blagojevich.

"I believed what Mr. Cellini told me, that Rezko and Kelly were friends of the governor," said Rosenberg.

Rezko is charged in the case with former TRS board member Stuart Levine, who pleaded guilty and testified for the government hoping to get a lesser prison sentence.

During cross-examination, Rezko's attorney, Joseph Duffy, suggested Rosenberg's TRS problem was caused only by corrupt board member Levine, with whom he acknowledged having a 20 years-plus relationship. It included Levine's repeated attempts to shake down Rosenberg for a $250,000 kickback related to a questionable sale of stock in Rosenberg's film company.

Rosenberg described the shakedown attempts as illegal. Duffy asked the movie producer a half dozen times, "Did you call law enforcement?"

Each time, Rosenberg responded, "I did not."

While Rosenberg never called the FBI about the shakedown, he said he did call Levine's lawyer at the time. He was former Chicago alderman Ed Vrdolyak, who's now facing trial on another kickback scheme.

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