Prosecutor wraps up case in Rezko trial

June 4, 2008 1:48:58 PM PDT
In closing arguments at the Tony Rezko trial Friday, prosecutors claim the political fundraiser used his power and influence to enrich himself and his friends.Rezko is charged in connection with a scheme to obtain kickbacks from a contractor. Rezko was one of the closest advisors to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The governor is not accused of any wrong doing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid J. Schar began his closing argument in the nine-week trial of Antoin "Tony" Rezko by calling the fundraiser a corrupt political insider who schemed with a public official to benefit himself and his friends. That same U.S. attorney charged that Rezko's actions during the first Blagojevich administration had nothing to do with good government.

Ten weeks after jury selection and testimony from more than two dozen prosecution witnesses, Rezko and his attorneys arrived at the courthouse to begin the stretch run in Rezko's corruption trial. For five hours, Schar summarized the government's case, detailing all 24 counts against Rezko. He's accused of using his influence to stack boards and scheming with Stuart Levine to extort kick backs from companies.

"Let's be clear about Stuart Levine: he's the embodiment of corruption. The issue is he telling the truth, what does the other evidence show, is it consistent with what he's telling you?" Schar said to the jury.

Schar read back transcripts of secretly recorded phone conversations, most involving Levine and referring to Rezko's involvement in the alleged schemes. However, the hours of tapes include only a few seconds of Rezko's voice and the prosecution has no evidence that Rezko received any money directly. Prosecutors allege the money was laundered through third parties or demanded as campaign contributions to Gov. Blagojevich.

Rezko's attorney, Joseph Duffy, began the defense's closing argument. Duffy focused on the lack of credibility of Levine, the prosecution's star witness, and emphasized his admission of a 30-year drug habit prior to the scandal. Duffy tried to make the point to the jury that Levine should not be believed because his mind has been so ravaged by many years of drug abuse. He also alleged that Levine is the consummate conman who is trying to fool the jury, to trick them into believing him, in order to receive a lesser prison term for his guilty plea.

If convicted, Rezko could get 10 years behind bars.

The trial, which got under way March 3, has been closely watched because Rezko, a Chicago real estate developer and fast-food entrepreneur, has been a fundraiser for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. But the Illinois senator was rarely mentioned in testimony and no one has said the evidence suggested even the slightest wrongdoing on Obama's part.

"We do not believe the government has met the burden of proving the charges against Mr. Rezko," said Duffy.

"He joined that corrupt scheme, he acted in furtherance of it, and he did it for money," Schar told the jury.

Schar scoffed at claims made during chief Duffy's opening statement that Rezko actually was very concerned about the propriety of his business and gave up a lucrative contract with the state tollway to avoid any appearance of wrongdoing.

"The defendant was concerned about the discovery of impropriety, but as for the impropriety, he had no problem with that," Schar said.

He then launched into a detailed, point-by-point summation of weeks of evidence in the biggest political corruption trial in Illinois since former Gov. George Ryan's racketeering trial.

In a surprise move last week, Rezko's attorney rested his case without calling a single witness on behalf of the defense.

Prosecutors claim Rezko, 52, schemed with attorney Levine to split a $1.5 million payoff from a contractor who wanted state permission to build a hospital in the McHenry County suburb of Crystal Lake. Levine pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Rezko also is charged with scheming with Levine to pressure kickbacks out of money management firms seeking to invest assets of the $40 billion fund that pays the pensions of retired downstate and suburban teachers.

The defense tried to discredit the testimony of key government witness, Ali Ata. Ata, the former Illinois finance authority director, testified that he essentially bought his state job from Governor Blagojevich with Rezko negotiating the deal. Ata also admitted on the stand that he's a convicted liar.

"He is not going to ask the jury to choose between the government's case and his case. He is going to go to the jury in closing argument and he is going to say you know what's wrong with the government's case? It's unbelievable," said Leonard Cavise, DePaul College of Law.

Prosecutors claim Rezko had so much clout with Blagojevich that he could control the boards that decided such matters from behind the scenes, giving orders to some of the members.

Rezko, a Syrian-born Chicago real estate developer and fast-food entrepreneur, denies taking part in any such schemes.

The trial, which got under way March 3, has been closely watched because Rezko, a Chicago real estate developer and fast-food entrepreneur, has been a fundraiser for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. But the Illinois senator was rarely mentioned in testimony and no one has said the evidence suggested even the slightest wrongdoing on Obama's part.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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