Antoin “Tony” Rezko, friend and fundraiser to many movers and shakers in Illinois politics, has been found guilty on 16 counts of fraud and corruption in connection with a “pay for play” bribery scheme that funneled kickbacks from campaign contributors to Rezko and his co-defendants.
The jury deliberated 13 days on the 24-count indictment that included six counts of mail fraud, nine counts of wire fraud, one count of attempted extortion, six counts of solicitation of funds, and two counts of money laundering.
Guilty verdicts were returned on the following counts:
* 12 counts of wire/mail fraud
* two counts of corrupt solicitation
* two counts of money laundering
The bribery scheme involved several corporations doing business with the state of Illinois through three major boards: a hospital construction board, the teachers pension fund, and a state employee retirement board. The companies were approached for campaign contributions and told that they could only win contracts with the state if they contributed. Rezko made sure of these boards’ compliance by stacking them with cronies he recommended to Governor Rod Blagojevich. Kickbacks on those state contracts were then funneled to Rezko and his friends.
A co-defendant with Rezko, Stuart Levine, cooperated with the prosecution in exchange for a lesser sentence. It was his shocking testimony regarding the activities of Rezko brazenly carrying out his bribery schemes that weighed heaviest with the jury.
The trial revealed a level of corruption in state government seldom seen — even in Illinois:
Former state official Ali Ata told jurors he bought his post with bribes to Rezko and campaign contributions to Blagojevich. Ata was also one of several witnesses who said Rezko talked of a plot to kill the criminal probe against him by pulling strings with the Bush White House to get U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald fired.
The trial also provided ample fodder for cynics who see Illinois politicians as members of a cozy club motivated more by greed than altruism or ideology.
Witnesses against Rezko claimed his alleged schemes involved a host of political insiders from both major parties. Among those whose names came up repeatedly during the trial were Chris Kelly, another top fundraiser for Blagojevich; William Cellini, a veteran Republican power broker; and Robert Kjellander, the longtime Republican national committeeman from Illinois.
Rezko is facing indictment in another unrelated bribery scheme as well as charges that he wrote hundreds of thousands of dollars in bad checks to casinos in Las Vegas. Because of this, and because Rezko is facing a long prison term for the 16 charges he has been convicted of to date, it is thought that the Chicago political operator will seek to cooperate with the United States attorney in his continuing investigation of corruption in state government.
If so, there are several Illinois politicians — including Governor Blagojevich — who would be in serious legal jeopardy. The governor’s name surfaced frequently during the trial, and it was clear that Blagojevich was aware of at least some of Rezko’s schemes.
Rezko is a long time friend, mentor, and fund raiser for Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama. There are questions surrounding the real estate deal involving the candidate’s house that Obama concluded with Rezko’s help which some local observers believe need clarification in order to clear the Illinois senator of ethics violations. Other matters related to Rezko, including the question of favors Obama may have done for his friend while he was in the Senate, could also be investigated by the prosecutor.
In short, while the governor and other top politicians in the state almost certainly should be worried about what Rezko might tell the prosecutor, no one can say for sure if Rezko would have anything of interest to spill about Barack Obama.
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