Witness: Rezko said 'Fitzgerald would be eliminated'

June 4, 2008 1:48:30 PM PDT
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert's name is now included in the list of political heavyweights linked to an alleged plot to get rid of Chicago's U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.His name came up during testimony at the Tony Rezko trial Monday as a former business associate of Rezko took the witness stand.

Hastert is the latest political name mentioned during the Rezko trial now entering its ninth week.

The allegation that Hastert may have been part of a "fire-Fitzgerald" movement was made by a one-time Rezko business associate and prosecution witness.

The witness's name is Elie Maloof. He once worked for Rezko and eventually became one of Rezko's partners in the restaurant business.

On the witness stand, Maloof's testimony corroborated the prosecution's claim that Democratic Party fundraiser Rezko was a major player in a bi-partisan plot to get U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald fired.

Maloof said he met with Rezko at Rezko's Wilmette mansion in February of 2005 after Maloof had received a federal grand jury subpoena. Maloof testified that Rezko told him not to worry.

"The federal prosecutor will no longer be the same federal prosecutor," Maloof quoted Rezko. "Patrick Fitzgerald will be terminated and Dennis Hastert will name his replacement."

Hastert at the time was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and the ranking Republican in the state's elected delegation to Capitol Hill.

Maloof's story appears to corroborate the plot described in the guilty plea of former Illinois finance authority chief Ali Ata. He was charged with Rezko in a separate federal financial fraud case. Ata claims Rezko told him that Illinois Republican power broker Robert Kjellander would lean on then-White House political chief Karl Rove to fire Fitzgerald to kill the Rezko investigation.

Hastert lost his job as speaker after the 2006 election and resigned from Congress late last year. So far, ABC7 has been unable to reach him for a comment on Maloof's testimony.

Ata, who is on record telling investigators about the alleged plot to get Fitzgerald is scheduled to testify Thursday. Because he was not on the prosecution's original witness list, Judge Amy St. Eve will not have court Tuesday or Wednesday to give defense attorneys time to prepare.

Kjellander denied he had ever discussed such a thing and Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said his client had no memory of such discussions.

Maloof's testimony Monday was the first time Hastert's name had come up in testimony.

"The conversation was that Mr. Hastert would name a new U.S. attorney," Maloof said.

"What would be the effect of having a new U.S. attorney on the investigation?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner asked.

"They would order the prosecutor to drop the investigation," said Maloof, who was not asked to elaborate on who "they" were.

Republicans in Washington could presumably be persuaded to spike an investigation into Democrat Blagojevich because Rezko raised money for the GOP too and is accused of scheming with Republican heavyweight Stuart Levine, who has pleaded guilty in the case and testified against Rezko.

Kjellander, former treasurer of the Republican National Committee, received $809,000 in consulting fees for Blagojevich's 2003 sale of state bonds, much of which prosecutors believe was funneled through a Rezko associate to Rezko "assignees." Kjellander has not been charged with wrongdoing.

Rezko, 52, is charged with scheming to split a $1.5 million bribe from a contractor who wanted state permission to build a hospital in the McHenry County suburb of Crystal Lake and pressure kickbacks out of money management firms seeking to do business with a state pension fund.

Prosecutors say Rezko's fundraising for Blagojevich made him highly influential in the administration and as a result he could manipulate the state boards that decide on hospital construction and allocate money from the pension fund to investment firms.

U.S. attorneys are nominated by the president but traditionally are chosen by the senior senator of the president's party.

Fitzgerald was the candidate of Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., no relation, who said openly that he wanted someone from out of state who would be independent and attack the corruption long plaguing Illinois.

Since taking over as U.S. attorney in September 2001, Patrick Fitzgerald has launched a vigorous attack on corruption, sending former Gov. George Ryan and a number of other political insiders to federal prison.

Peter Fitzgerald and Hastert, while both Republicans, often were at odds with each other. It would not be unusual to allow a senior congressman to suggest a candidate for U.S. attorney if there were no senator of the president's party from the state.

Maloof, a former employee of a Rezko pizza business, testified under a grant of immunity from prosecution for anything he might say on the stand.

Among other things, he testified that Rezko told him to say as little as possible when called before a federal grand jury investigating corruption in the Blagojevich administration.

And he said Rezko told him anything he might say about Rezko himself would "tie back to Blagojevich."

The governor has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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