ABC 7 Exclusive: Tony Rezko talks from prison

Rezko leaves the federal building in Chicago, Oct. 19, 2006, after his arraignment. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) ( (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh))
May 30, 2012 8:52:59 PM PDT
Convicted political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko has granted his first television interview since he went to prison for corruption.

"I was indicted, tried and convicted for a crime I did not commit," he told ABC7's Charles Thomas. "Here I am serving a 10 and a 1/2 year sentence that I believe I do not deserve."

Rezko was the wealthiest and most influential member of former governor Rod Blagojevich's inner circle.

As he sits in the federal penitentiary in downstate Pekin, Ill., four years after his conviction, Rezko still says he did not do it. At least not the 16 fraud, money laundering and bribery counts on which he was found guilty. But the political fundraiser admitted during the conversation that he and then-governor Rod Blagojevich did conspire to make illegal pay-to-play appointments to state boards and commissions.

"Did I do fundraising for board appointments? Yes I did. Did I participate in that? Sure I did. Was he [Blagojevich] aware of it? Yes, he was," he said.

From Harold Washington in the 1980s to U.S. Senator Barack Obama and Blagojevich, businessman Rezko donated to or raised millions of dollars for dozens of Illinois politicians.

"It's something I enjoyed," he said. "And once I believed in a candidate I went all out for him or her."

ABC7's Charles Thomas asked Rezko about the broker's job at his real estate company that he gave Patti Blagojevich, the governor's wife.

"Did she do any real work there?" Thomas asked. "I believe she did, yes," Rezko responded. "Of course she did."

"Those of us, for instance, who are reporters and I'm sure many taxpayers would believe that maybe this is a way you funnel money to the governor," Thomas said. "Well, she was working with me before he became a governor," Rezko said.

Stuart Levine, a corrupt Republican, sat on two state boards and was a star government witness in Rezko's trial.

On Wednesday, Rezko called Levine a liar who fabricated stories of Rezko's involvement in various schemes to kickback campaign contributions to Blagojevich.

"Had I known he was taking kickbacks and had been taking kickbacks, I would never have met with him to start with," Rezko said.

The U.S. Attorney's office delayed Rezko's sentencing for three and half years as he was held in the federal lockup and county jails including months in solitary confinement. Reportedly, he was considered a possible witness in the trials of Blagojevich and Republican fundraiser William Cellini. He was never called to testify by prosecutors.

"Did I meet with them, I met with them," he said. "Did I answer their questions. I answered their questions to the best of my knowledge."

Months ago, Rezko told ABC7's Charles Thomas there was one person he would not discuss during the interview: President Barack Obama. Rezko donated to Obama's state and U.S. Senate campaigns and Rezko's wife Rita was involved in a controversial sale of land to Obama in 2005. Thomas told Rezko that as a self-respecting journalist, he had to at least ask why he made the president off limits.

"I just wanted you to explain that so I'm off the hook," Thomas said. "My answer is we're out of time," Rezko replied.

The U.S. Attorney's office had no comment on the Rezko interview.

Stuart Levine's attorney responded to Rezko's charge that his client is a liar by saying "the verdict speaks for itself." Levine will be sentenced next month.

Watch ABC7 News starting at 4 p.m. on Thursday to hear more of Charles Thomas' interview with Rezko.


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