Rezko Background: About the case

June 4, 2008 1:49:58 PM PDT
Antoin "Tony" Rezko was indicted in September of 2006 and charged with 24 criminal counts including mail fraud, extortion and money laundering. The indictment alleged that the 52-year-old Rezko, who is one of the top fundraisers for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, schemed with Republican insider Stuart Levine, who was a member of two state boards, to extort kickbacks from private companies who wanted to do business with those boards.

The government alleged that during 2003 and 2004, Rezko held such influence with Blagojevich that he could stack state boards to do his illegal bidding. The governor has repeatedly denied Rezko had such a role in his administration.

"There isn't even a suggestion in that indictment that I had any knowledge whatsoever of any wrongdoing," said Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Oct. 12, 2006.

The government's star witness against Rezko was Levine, who pleaded guilty in an attempt to get a reduced prison term. He was appointed by Republican Governors Edgar and Ryan during the 1990s to the Illinois Hospital Facilities Planning Board and the Teachers Retirement System. Levine told the jury that Rezko helped him get re-appointed after Democrat Blagojevich took office.

He testified he met with Rezko dozens of times at Rezko's office on the Near North Side to plan the kickback and extortion schemes. One scheme involved a $1.5 million under-the-table payment from a contractor who wanted to build a new hospital in Crystal Lake.

Other schemes would have companies who wanted to invest teacher pension funds pay finders fees to third parties designated by Rezko and Levine. As part of its investigation, the FBI secretly recorded conversations on Levine's home telephone during which he made references to Rezko's alleged role.

". . . If we don't get it finished today. . . Tony's gonna. . . not gonna do business anymore like that," said Levine in the recorded phone call.

Defense attorney Joseph Duffy argued Rezko's voice rarely was heard on the dozens of tapes-- and the defendant never was heard discussing extortion or kickback plots.

Duffy also spent most of two week cross examining Levine about his own corrupt activities that began decades before 2003. Duffy unleashed a blistering attack on Levine's memory and credibility citing the witness's thirty plus years of illegal drug use and the regular drug binges with a circle of male friends at the purple hotel in Lincolnwood.

Rezko--who made a fortune as a real estate developer and restaurant chain owner--is now reportedly millions of dollars in debt. Court testimony revealed he and his wife, Rita, have not paid the mortgage on their mansion in Wilmette since September of 2006.

Since making his first contribution to the Chicago mayoral campaign of the late Harold Washington in the early 1980s, Rezko has donated or raised millions of dollars for dozens of Illinois political candidates. The amount includes more than $150,000 to U.S. Senator Barack Obama. Since Rezko's indictment, the presidential candidate says he has donated all Rezko-linked contributions to charity.


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