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Businessman Ali Ata testified on Thursday during the second week of Blagojevich's corruption trial. Blagojevich is accused of pay-to-play politics.
They set the stage for Ata with Democratic Party fundraiser Joe Cari, who said he was invited by Blagojevich's top confidants to head up Blagojevich's national fundraising operations early in the former governor's first term.
Cari testified that Blagojevich and his top aides had set up a mechanism to appoint people to state boards and commissions and then hit them up for campaign contribution.
"... there would be a quid pro quo," said Cari, "they were going to reward their friends."
Cari testified that in 2003 Stuart Levine told him about a plan in which Blagojevich and his inner circle -- including Chris Kelly, Tony Rezko and Levine -- were putting together to give state business to companies that would then donate to the Blagojevich campaign.
"If you did not play ball the way they wanted...there were repercussions," said Cari.
When questioned by the defense, Cari said Blagojevich never asked him to be part of the play-to-play politics, but others did.
Cari is testifying for the government after pleading guilty to attempted extortion several years ago. The charge stems from Cari's attempt to convince the top officer of an investment firm that she'd better hire a consultant for the state investment deal or the whole thing would go south.
Cari explained to the investment banker - "In Illinois, the governor and the top people around him - they pick the investment banks and the law firms. That's the way it's done in Illinois."
Prosecutors followed that with Ata, one of their most important witnesses. Ata twice made sizable contributions to Blagojevich - both before and after his first election.
When Ali Ata met Rod Blagojevich for the first time it was in late August of 2002. Ata said he was asked by Tony Rezko to come to Rezko's office with a contribution. There, Ata said he met Jay Hoffman, Lon Monk, Chris Kelly, and Rod Blagojevich.
Ata testified he gave Rezko a check for $25,000 for Blagojevich's campaign fund as they walked to the conference room.
"As I walked into the conference room I was introduced, the governor was there, Mr. Rezko indicated that I was a team player... he also indicated that I had expressed an interest in joining the administration."
Ata also testified he talked to Rezko about the executive director job with the Illinois Finance Authority. Soon after that Ata was asked by Rezko to give another contribution.
At a fundraiser at Navy Pier in July 2003 Ata gave Rezko a $25,000 check for Friends of Blagojevich. Then Ata said he had a conversation with Rod Blagojevich. Ata said, "Mr. Blagojevich thanked me for my contribution... (Blagojevich said he) was aware I was considering a job with the administration and it 'better be a job where I could make some money.'"
Ata said he is helping prosecutors in hopes of a lenient sentence in his own case.
No comment from Blagojevich
The former governor rarely shies away from a microphone, but on Thursday Rod Blagojevich drew a finger across his mouth to indicate his lips were zipped.
The former governor was warned by the judge Wednesday to "exercise discretion" when talking to the media about his corruption case. Judge James Zagel has yet to rule on a motion filed by the prosecution that asked for a gag order for those involved in the trial.
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