Rezko trial testimony reveals political favors

March 13, 2008 4:27:09 PM PDT
The testimony is pulling back the curtain on a part of Illinois politics most people never see.And according to some of the witnesses, it's still a world that runs on political favors and backroom deals.

When Governor Rod Blagojevich took office in 2003, Illinois' first Democratic governor promised an end to business as usual. But testimony in the Tony Rezko corruption trial reveals that on one state board in particular, the behind-the-scenes players remained the same, and their party affiliation meant very little.

Sixty-nine-year-old Thomas Beck, who chaired the hospital planning board in 2003 and 2004 even though he lived most of the time in California, was back in the federal courthouse for cross-examination.

On Wednesday, Beck told the jury that defendant Rezko, on trial for a scheme to extort $1.5 million from a hospital developer, controlled the nine-member board to which Rezko allegedly had engineered the appointments of five members, including Beck and Stuart Levine, who also will testify against Rezko later in the trial.

Democrat Beck said he was a cousin of Chicago's longtime 47th Ward committeeman Ed Kelly, but was first appointed to the planning board in the early '90s by Republican Governor Jim Edgar at the recommendation of then-State Senate President Republican Pate Phillip. Beck said he was re-recommended by Phillip and re-appointed by Republican Governor George Ryan. When Democrat Rod Blagojevich was elected in 2002, Beck told the jury he gave fundraiser Rezko $1,000 for the governor's campaign chest and was re-appointed chairman of the board.

Beck also told the jury that one of his best social and family friends is Jeffrey Ladd, the Republican former Metra chairman, who now calls himself a healthcare lawyer. Ladd testified under immunity Thursday that he frequently represented hospital companies in front of Beck's planning board.

With no mention of possible conflicts, Ladd acknowledged his social relationship with Beck while at the same time expressing concern that Tony Rezko had too much influence on matters involving the hospital companies Ladd represented.

And Republican Ladd testified he was frustrated by Rezko's influence that he asked his Democrat buddy Beck if he knew a consultant he could hire to fix things. Beck testified he recommended cousin Ed Kelly, the old 47th Ward Democratic powerbroker.