Rezko jury begins deliberating

CHICAGO Closing arguments wrapped up Tuesday.

According to courthouse clocks, at exactly 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, Rezko's attorney spoke the last words in defense of Antoin "Tony" Rezko. The prosecution then took another hour or so to complete its rebuttal closing argument, and shortly thereafter, Judge Amy St. Eve began instructing the jury.

The jury began deliberating at 4:30 p.m. and discussed the case for only a half hour before dismissing for the day.

Clearly, this has been one of the most important days in this now 10-week trial.

Rezko spent the first three hours of the day in court characterized as a victim. His attorney, Joseph Duffy, told the jury that Rezko -- like so many others -- was duped by Republican fundraiser Stuart Levine, who pleaded guilty in the case and testified for the prosecution.

But assistant U.S. attorney Chris Niewohner accused Duffy of trying to distract the jury from Rezko: "He is here because he was part of a corrupt ring of insiders. The defendant is not a victim...he is a victimizer." The government alleges the businessman and Democratic fundraiser for Governor Rod Blagojevich and others stacked two Illinois boards and schemed with Levine, who was a member of those boards, to extort kickbacks from companies trying to get state business.

Duffy called Levine an admitted drug abuser and longtime swindler trying to get a reduced prison term - "the quintessential con man." He described the government's case as "an upside down pyramid," built on the shaky foundation of Levine's testimony and "soon to crumble."

But prosecutor Niewohner noted the repeated mention of Rezko's name during hours of secretly recorded phone conversations: "Mr. Duffy wants to talk about the great pyramid and how it will last forever. Well, those tapes are like that, too."

Duffy also took aim at prosecution witness Ali Ata, the corrupt former Illinois Finance Authority director who agreed to testify against Rezko after pleading guilty to federal charges including tax violations. Said Duffy: "If you went to the dictionary and looked up tax cheat, you'd see Ali Ata's name."

Judge St. Eve announced late last week that she would not convene court Wednesday. So, presumably, the jury will not resume its deliberations until Thursday.

The jury is of an interesting makeup, with 10 of the dozen being women and half being African-American - a disproportionate representation of the population.

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