Rezko trial continues with more prosecution witnesses

March 11, 2008 4:49:05 PM PDT
In the corruption trial of political fundraiser Tony Rezko, there was testimony Tuesday that Rezko used his political muscle to push through a suburban hospital deal so Rezko could collect a big payoff. Donald Jones is an analyst for the Illinois Department of Health. He told the jury that in 2004, the state hospital facilities planning board approved building Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Crystal Lake. But it did so despite Jones' conclusion that the project did not meet eight of 18 state criteria for construction.

In their indictment, prosecutors allege that defendant Rezko controlled the planning board and that Rezko and former board member-turned-government witness Stewart Levine were pushing the Crystal Lake hospital as part of a scheme to extort $1 million from the building's contractor.

Witness Jones said the nine-member board initially rejected the project. Then several months later after a second vote ended in a 4-4 tie with board member Dr. Imad Almanaseer voting "present."

"Stewart Levine got up from his seat and went over to Dr. Almanaseer and whispered into his ear," Jones said. The jury heard that immediately Almanaseer switched his vote from present to yes and Crystal Lake got the green light.

Later, former state health department lawyer Anne Murphy described the same vote, adding that those in attendance gasped out loud when the project was approved. Asked what Levine said to her when she asked what he had done, Murphy quoted Levine: "sometimes you have to be a good soldier."

The Crystal Lake hospital project was never built. The contractor who allegedly paid a bribe has pleaded guilty and is listed as a witness against Rezko.

Testimony continues Wednesday morning.