Jury picked at Rezko trial

March 5, 2008 2:24:19 PM PST
The identities of jurors chosen Wednesday for the corruption trial of a prolific fundraiser for Sen. Barack Obama and Gov. Rod Blagojevich are being kept secret, at least for the time being.

U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve said she would not immediately release either the names or juror numbers of the 12 jurors and six alternates chosen for Antoin "Tony" Rezko's potentially explosive political fraud trial. She left the door open to releasing some information later.

Rezko, 52, is accused of joining with millionaire attorney Stuart Levine in a scheme to shake down companies hoping to invest state teachers pension money or build hospital expansions.

The companies allegedly were told to make political contributions or pay kickbacks if they wanted to get state approval for their proposals.

The businessman admits he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Blagojevich and sizable amounts for Obama as well but insists he never took part in any shakedown scheme. Neither politician is charged with any wrongdoing.

Obama's name is expected to come up only briefly, if at all, in the testimony.

It's Rezko's influence in Blagojevich's administration that is to be the focus of the case. Rezko's prowess as a fundraiser provided him with the clout needed to operate the alleged shakedown scheme, prosecutors say.

They say Levine's position as a member of two key state boards: the Illinois Teachers Retirement System board of trustees and the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board also was crucial to the alleged scheme.

Levine has pleaded guilty and is expected to be the government's star witness.

Reporters covering the trial sat in silence in the courtroom for an hour Wednesday while attorneys for both sides put the finishing touches on the jury.

After questioning dozens of potential jurors, St. Eve and the attorneys had narrowed the potential list to 44. On Wednesday, each side exercised what attorneys call their "peremptory strikes" -- potential jurors they can have removed from the list without having to explain why they want them taken off.

Rezko's attorneys had 10 such peremptory strikes and prosecutors six.

Their discussions were held in so-called "sidebars" in a corner of the courtroom out of earshot and off the public record as well.

"OK, we have a jury, please be here at 8:45 (Thursday). I hope to have the jury sworn in right at 9 a.m.," U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve said.

Opening statements and first witnesses were expected to immediately follow.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie E. Hamilton was expected to deliver the government's opening statement and chief defense counsel Joseph J. Duffy was to speak on behalf of Rezko. Each was expected to take an hour.

Prosecutors previously have said the first witness would be Kelly Glynn, who was the director of the Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund when Blagojevich first ran for governor.

She is expected to give jurors an overview of how the Blagojevich campaign raised money and specifics about Rezko's role as a fundraiser.