Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Rezko trial is underway

First off, before I begin, I need to pass on three links that are important to anyone wanting to follow this trial. The first is to Rezko Watch. This site is not only keeping up with the trial, but it has valuable information about Mr. Rezko and the company he kept inside the "the Chicago way" of politics. It also gives information on the periphery characters in this little drama, such as Nadhmi Auchi and Aiham Alsammarae; two Iraqis that were directly involved with Mr. Rezko, both of which have been found guilty of corruption abroad.

The next site is Rezkorama, which is a clearing-house of sorts on every major news and blog report on the trial. This will be a valuable source of information as the trial unfolds.

The last site is the Chicago Tribune's "gavel to gavel" coverage of the trial.

What has happened thus far --

Jury selection has been made, and the judge has ordered that the identities of the jurors remain secret. It's an odd move. Usually that sort of occurrence happens only in capital murder trial, or trials involving the mob. But the judge felt, in this case, it was warranted considering the players involved. This isn't just about Tony Rezko. It's about his dealings with people like Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and the aforementioned business partners. Yes, Barack Obama is involved in this, but we agree that as of right now, he is such a minor player in all of this that there will likely be no repercussions against him. (This trial, if he is named, will do little to him except tarnish that "saintly" image he's been peddling to the people.)

Opening statements were given in the case yesterday and it's clear which direction the prosecution is taking:

Prosecutors will attempt to show a tag-team of businessman Stuart Levine and Rezko using influence and clout to extort millions from people and firms doing business with the state.

Rezko’s defense, meanwhile, will portray Levine as a desperate, drug-using and – most important – unreliable character while they insist Rezko’s political involvement has been above board.

Continually using the phrase pay to play, Assistant U.S. Atty. Carrie Hamilton said Rezko and Levine were much more effective together than either could have been on their own.

“Levine was the one with the influence; Rezko was the one with the clout,” Hamilton said. The prosecution positioned Levine as the front man while Rezko was behind the curtains pulling the strings.

Among the first witnesses called was FBI agent, Charles Willenborg, who painted a picture of influence peddling in the Blagojevich administration:

One of the first witnesses, FBI agent Charles A. Willenborg, said that federal investigators have identified $1,437,350 raised by Rezko for Blagojevich from 2000 to December 2004. That made him second to longtime lobbyist-fundraiser Milan Petrovic with $1,963,485.

Another FBI-produced chart, based on the Blagojevich campaign's own records, showed that Rezko had raised thousands of dollars from contractors, insurance people, lobbyists and individuals who later got seats on state boards that were involved in the alleged shakedown scheme.

Attorney Susan Lichtenstein, who served as Blagojevich's general counsel in his first year in office, testified that Rezko sat in on her job interview and was a regular presence at the governor's strategy sessions with his closest advisers.

But this wasn't just a web in the current governor's administration. The prosecution pointed out that this scheme was a shakedown scheme involving Rezko and his partner Stuart Levine. It included two very well-known boards in Illinois:

One is the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. Its permission is necessary before hospitals or hospital expansions can be constructed.

The other is the board of trustees of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System - the $30 billion-plus fund that pays the pensions of downstate and suburban school teachers. The board decides which firms get the highly lucrative job of investing millions of dollars on behalf of the system.

Rezko is accused of scheming with Levine who was a member of both boards to force Mercy Hospital to hire contractor Jacob Kiferbaum to build an expansion facility in Crystal Lake in Lake County. Kiferbaum in turn was to pay a $1 million kickback to Levine, according to federal prosecutors. ...

Rezko and Levine never collected their $7 million because the FBI had been watching Levine and stepped in before the plan could be completed, Hamilton said. ...

Prosecutors say that at a dinner meeting at the Standard Club in downtown Chicago Levine and Rezko hatched a scheme to force firms wanting to invest teachers pension funds to split finder's fees with them.

Hollywood producer Thomas Rosenberg, who also operates one of the investment firms, Capri Capital, was told that to receive $220 million to invest he had to pay a $2 million kickback or raise $1.5 million for the Blagojevich campaign, prosecutors say.

Rosenberg said no and threatened to expose the scheme and was able to get the money for Capri without paying, according to the government.

Prosecutors say Levine was able to command majorities on each of the two boards, thanks in part to Rezko's political clout in the Blagojevich administration, and thus could block any plan if the firm refused to pay.

"They were going to have to pay a fee," Hamilton told the jurors. "The person working for the fund was going to have to pay. No fee, no fund."

Two other names will be prominent in this trial, and the prosecution wasted little time in bringing them to light. The first is Bill Cellini, who is a prominent Republican boss in Illinois politics, identified as "Co-Schemer A." And then there's Robert Kjellander, who is another big Republican boss in Illinois politics. He's been under investigation for some time regarding questionable pension deals.

Now I know a lot of people are hoping to see this trial "bring down" Barack Obama, but I say again that this probably won't. The only thing that this trial will do to him is to bring him down to earth as a politician who slogged his way through Illinois politics, and that same machine helped him get elected to the US Senate. It'll mar that "reformer" persona that everyone keeps trying to paint him as. Truth be told, Rezko raised funds for him, and much of those funds have either been returned or donated to charity. His house -- the one that Rezko helped him buy -- is the other nugget surrounding Obama.

This case isn't about Obama. It's about Rezko and the dirty dealings he had in Illinois politics. That's not to say this case isn't big. In addition to taking Rezko down, it could be the downfall of Blagojevich, and some key figures in Illinois political circles. Keep watching the three sites I listed at the beginning of this post for trial updates (there are no deliberations today), and keep watching here. We'll be doing our best to bring readers the skinny on what's going on.

Publius II


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