April 2008 Archives

Rezko trial: U.S. seeks to limit questioning

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Prosecutors filed a court petition today asking that Judge Amy St. Eve bar the defense from asking about the criminal past of a witness' nephew. They also say that the witness, Ali Ata, should not be asked about another investigation into his business that ended without charges.

Ata, expected to give explosive testimony when he takes the stand Thursday, should not be asked about his nephew, Raed Muslin, prosecutors say. Muslin was convicted of conspiracy charges involving the distribution of pseudoephedrine -- at times in the warehouse of a company that later came under Ata's control.

Governor's response to home lien accusation

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Gov. Blagojevich's spokeswoman, Abby Ottenhoff, responds to an allegation that Tony Rezko shook down former Blagojevich official Ali Ata to pay an impending lien on the governor's home.

Ata said he gave Rezko $25,000 in cash after Rezko told him he needed to pass the money to contractors who were about to place on a lien on the governor's home.

“We can’t comment on alleged conversations that the governor was not a party to,” spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said today. "As we said last year, the Blagojeviches personally paid for the work to renovate their 14-by-20 family room out of their checking account."

Ata, the former $127,000-a-year head of the Illinois Finance Authority, gave $60,000 in contributions to the governor's campaign fund before winning his post. Rezko's lawyers say there is nothing to back up Ata's accusations. Ata is expected to take the stand in Rezko's trial Thursday.

Blago hired Rezko firm for home renovation

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In 2007, the Sun-Times exclusively reported that the governor used contractors from Tony Rezko companies to renovate his Ravenswood Manor home.

Read the story: Blago renovation

Witness: Rezko wanted cash bribe for Blago home

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Here's a summary of today's events in court related to Ali Ata's expected testimony Thursday:
Rezko sought cash to avoid lien on Gov's home

Witness: Rezko needed cash to fix gov's home

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In court today, prosecutors say that Tony Rezko asked former state official Ali Ata to give him cash to help prevent a lien on Gov. Blagojevich's Ravenswood Manor home.

There is no trial today, it is the first of two days off. The free days are designed to give the defense some time to prepare for Ata's testimony since he just came on as a witness last week.

Rezko trial: Finish line in sight

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Judge Amy St. Eve just told jurors that the trial is ahead of schedule.

There will be a two-day break from the trial (Tuesday and Wednesday) and then back Thursday morning.
Ali Ata is expected to take the stand Thursday afternoon. Lawyers will meet with the judge tomorrow to talk about the scope of Ata's testimony.

St. Eve told jurors she expects that the prosecution will rest its case early next week, probably Monday.
She also said closing arguments could happen May 12 and May 13.

Rezko trial: Who's on the phone with Tony?

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Tony Rezko had frequent -- but brief -- conversations with a number of top Illinois players and political insiders between 2003 and 2004.

This break brought to you by ... Ali Ata

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We might have one day, maybe two days off from the trial because the defense wants more time to prepare its cross examination of Ali Ata.

Ata is supposed to bring some explosive testimony, including ...

Witness: 'Patrick Fitzgerald would be terminated'

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Tony Rezko associate Elie Maloof (pictured above, right) just testified that when he received a grand jury subpoena, Rezko told him not to talk to the feds. Why?

"The federal prosecutor will no longer be the same federal prosecutor," Maloof just testified that Rezko told him. What did Rezko mean prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked? "That Patrick Fitzgerald would be terminated and Dennis Hastert will name his replacement. The investigation will be over."

Maloof, who once helped run some of Rezko's fast-food businesses, said Rezko told him of Fitzgerald's replacement: "That they will order the prosecutor to stop the investigation."
It is the first time jurors heard an accusation that Rezko worked behind the scenes to oust Fitzgerald.

Rezko trial: Obama's name kept hush

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This morning at the Tony Rezko trial, before jurors entered the courtroom, lawyers discuss the expected testimony of Elie Maloof. Though Maloof is accused of making a straw donation to Barack Obama's campaign, lawyers and the judge this morning tiptoed around Obama's name, never mentioning it.

It appears when Maloof takes the stand in Rezko's trial, Obama will be kept out of the picture. Maloof is testifying with a grant of immunity from prosecution.

Ex-inmate helps free Rezko from jail

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Mystery still surrounds Aiham Alsammarae, a onetime Iraqi official who fled from an Iraqi jail in 2006 after he was convicted on corruption charges there. Alsammarae lives in Oak Brook. Alsammarae and Rezko's friendship goes back decades. It became most evident last week, when court records showed that Alsammarae put up more than one-third of the property value to secure Rezko's bond.
Documents obtained by the Sun-Times raise questions over Alsammarae's status as a fugitive. They indicate that his conviction was vacated but he may be retried. However, an Interpol warrant remains active against Alsammarae. Alsammarae has maintained his innocence and says the charges against him are false.

The Sun-Times reported the story exclusively today : Fugitive puts up homes to spring Tony Rezko

Aiham Alsammarae and Tony Rezko

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Look for our report this weekend detailing who's behind bailing out Tony Rezko from jail last week.

It includes three properties posted by former Iraqi Electricity Minister Aiham Alsammarae, who in 2006 fled from Iraqi prison. Alsammarae's $1.9 million equity in his Oak Brook home and two other properties made up more than one-third of the $8 million in properties postes to ensure Rezko's bond.

Rezko was released from a downtown lockup April 18 after dozens of friends and family members posted nearly 30
properties to secure his release. He was arrested Jan. 28 after failing to disclose an overseas wire transfer.

Producer describes shakedown scheme

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Hollywood Producer Tom Rosenberg testified he was a victim of a shakedown scheme where he was asked to give $1.5 million in campaign contributions to Gov. Blagojevich if he wanted to continue to enjoy Illinois business. Rosenberg is the producer of the Oscar-winning "Million Dollar Baby," and of a new Katherine Heigl film, "The Ugly Truth."
The governor is not charged with any wrongdoing.

Read a summary of yesterday's testimony by Hollywood Producer Tom Rosenberg:

Today's story

The Human Stain -- an Allison Davis sidenote

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Witness Tom Rosenberg talks about his relationship with Allison Davis. Davis is a Rezko associate, a developer and lawyer, as well as the onetime boss of Barack Obama, when Obama worked at a Chicago law firm.

Give me a million dollars, baby

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Hollywood Producer Tom Rosenberg tells of how his business with the Teachers' Retirement System, $220 million allocation, was suddenly not approved. Rosenberg was a principal in Capri Capital, which sought business with TRS. He's also the Oscar-winning producer of the hit "Million Dollar Baby."

Rosenberg said he later learned from Bill Cellini that Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly were upset with Rosenberg because he historically had made loads of money with the state but failed to cough up anything in return. Cellini relayed to Rosenberg that the talk was that Rosenberg had to turn over more than $1 million to the governor's campaign fund.

Rezko trial: Predictions

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Tom Rosenberg recalled hearing of pressures the governor's people were putting on a state board to reward political donors.

He once told GOP power broker Bill Cellini predicted that the way a state board operated, people could end up in court. Rosenberg called up Cellini when he had business stall with the Teachers' Retirement System board. Rosenberg had a feeling that his old nemesis Stuart Levine, who was on the TRS board, was behind torpedoing the deal.
So he called up Cellini, "Because he always knows what was going on.”

What happens?

Tom Rosenberg, who is testifying with immunity from prosecution, just described a scenario in which he meets with Ed Vrdolyak to talk about the estate of a friend, the late multi-millionaire Ted Tannebaum.

Rosenberg has just described how he and Stuart Levine loathe one another. The two had a falling out where Levine allegedly was inappropriately asking Rosenberg for money.
Rosenberg said he didn't talk to him after that.

Then they ended up in Vrdolyak's office.

Rezko trial: The Ugly Truth

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When witness Tom Rosenberg talks about "the ugly truth" at Tony Rezko's corruption trial, you would think he's talking about the merits of the case.

Nah. Minutes into Rosenberg's testimony, he went ahead and gave his newest movie a plug,
telling jurors: "The Ugly Truth," stars Katherine Heigl.

Rosenberg, described as the largest independent producer in Hollywood, has a little bit of a different background than what we're used to in this trial. He won an Oscar for Best Picture for producing Million Dollar Baby and produced 52 films.
The suntanned Rosenberg may also be the first male witness to take the stand and not wear a tie.

Rezko trial: Hollywood producer up next

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Tom Rosenberg, a Chicago businessman who became a Hollywood Producer, is expected to take the stand in a matter of minutes. Rosenberg produced the blockbuster "Million Dollar Baby."

Rezko trial: Associate talks of fee splitting

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Michael Winter, who worked with Tony Rezko at the Rezmar offices, said he spoke with Rezko in 2003 about splitting a finder's fee in relation to the Teachers' Retirement System. Winter testified he, Rezko and another Rezko associate, Dan Mahru, agreed to split a finder's fee in thirds.

Winter said Rezko at one point wanted a bigger share because he had to split some of his one-third with Chris Kelly. But Winter argued with him, saying he deserved more money because he was doing more of the work. In the end, the deal never went through Winter testified.

Rezko trial: Ata could be up next week

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Prosecutors said this morning in Tony Rezko's trial that Ali Ata, the newest explosive witness of the trial, could be called to the stand next Wednesday or Thursday.

Rove, Kjellander deny Fitzgerald plot

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Prosecutors want Tony Rezko jurors to hear about alleged plot to overthrow U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Read today's story

Rezko trial: Kjellander tried to oust Fitzgerald

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Here's our online story:

As a federal probe into Gov. Blagojevich's administration heated up in late 2004, there were discussions between GOP powerbroker Robert Kjellander and Bush White House insider Karl Rove to oust corruption-busting U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald from his job, according to a man whom prosecutors want to testify at Rezko’s trial.


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In the biggest bombshiell dropped yet, federal prosecutors in Tony Rezko's trial, say that a future witness, Ali Ata, has told them Rezko, GOP heavyweight Bob Kjellander and former White House adviser Karl Rove had plotted to try to get rid of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who was at the time uncovering corruption in Gov. Blagojevich's administration.

Governor's response

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Gov. Blagojevich's spokeswoman responds to Ali Ata's allegations:

“As we’ve said many times before, we don’t endorse or allow the decisions of state government to be based on campaign contributions,” Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said.

Rezko trial: Ata to be called as witness

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton told U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve today that the prosecution intends on calling Ali Ata as a witness in Rezko's trial.

In Ata's plea deal, he indicates he gave Rezko $125,000 in cash while he headed the Illinois Finance Authority.

Ata alleges that Rezko on numerous occasions demanded that Ata pay him tens of thousands of dollars in cash. Ata told the government he believed that his job as head of the IFA relied on his ability to please Rezko.

Ali Ata
Ali Ata is expected to testify against Rezko

Blagojevich back in the hot seat

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This didn't come up at the Tony Rezko trial.

But it will.

Ali Ata, a Rezko associate and co-defendant in Rezko's other case -- a loan fraud indictment that's still pending -- said he was in Rezko's Chicago offices with the governor when he handed over a $25,000 campaign check.

More details in the story we just posted online: Ex-aide pleads guilty

Ali Ata
Ali Ata leveled some serious allegations against the governor today.

A former top official in Gov. Blagojevich administration pleaded guilty this afternoon to charges tied to a loan fraud scheme involving Tony Rezko.

Ali Ata, 56, of Lemont is expected to plead guilty in a criminal information including making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and a tax-related count.

Ata is the former executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority.

Rezko trial: $50 million more -- just like that

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The staff at the Teachers' Retirement System was awfully accommodating to people seeking business with it, a former TRS lawyer just testified.

Steve Loren recalled attending a meeting in which TRS Executive Director Jon Bauman met with Loren, Stuart Levine ( a board member) and William Cellini.
Cellini, a powerful Springfield Republican, was a real estate manager for TRS and had been invited to the meeting to discuss his own allocation from TRS.
"I was somewhat surprised," Loren said.

Rezko trial: Witness chokes up on stand

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Tony Rezko entering the federal building.

Read today's story about Steve Loren's testimony: Cohort testifies about fee scheme

Rezko trial: Late start today

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Different schedule today with court starting up at noon.

Steve Loren is expected to be on the stand all day.

Rezko trial: Loren chokes up on stand

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Two dozen witnesses have taken the stand so far in the Tony Rezko trial, but none choked up before this afternoon.

Steve Loren, an attorney who conspired with Stuart Levine and who served as counsel for the Teachers' Retirement System, struggled through portions of his testimony today. At one point, his voice cracked as he fought back emotion. He leaned back in his chair, slightly shook his head and at another point, looked away from jurors and pressed his fingers up to his eyes.

What Loren was describing wasn't emotional. It was about his own wrongdoing.

"It was a mistake on my part to acquiesce to it," Loren said, then choked up.

Rezko trial:Backing up Levine

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We've entered the "See, our star witness was telling the truth" portion of the trial.

State pension fund attorney, Steve Loren, gives testimony that backs up that of star witness Stuart Levine.
Tony Rezko's lawyer, Joseph Duffy, tore into Levine, saying his word couldn't be trusted because his memory was shaky and he had personal reasons to lie on the stand.

But Loren, who was overheard on numerous recordings talking with Levine, backed up Levine's contentions on the following (thus far):

-- The behind-the-scenes power at TRS held by GOP heavyweight William Cellini
-- Efforts to stop the consolidation of two state pension funds, including actions by Cellini.
-- Levine's first meeting with Rezko, in which Rezko talked about the sale of the Scholl property by the Chicago Medical School (now Rosalind Franklin).
--That Ald. Dick Mell visited Levine and invited him to take part in the transition team for Gov. Blagojevich. Levine decilned.

Rezko trial: Broken ankle bonds Loren and Levine

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It was a broken ankle, suffered during a ski accident, that brought two co-conspirators in the Tony Rezko case together.

Steve Loren, who pleaded guilty, is talking about his early relationship with Stuart Levine. Levine was the star witness in the Rezko case, whose many conversations with Loren were captured on secret recordings.

Rezko trial: Wine and chuckles

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Richard Driehaus proved to be a very brief witness, who on cross examination let out a peculiar-sounding chuckle at what seemed to be peculiar moments.
Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy asked Driehaus about his first met Rezko, which took place at the home of Charles Hannon. Driehaus and Rezko had dinner together, but Duffy asked whether it was true they didn't in fact meet until they were in the basement of the Hannon home.
“I did, sort of interesting, isn’t it?” Ha! he chuckled to himself. No one else was laughing.
Then Duffy asked:
"Is it fair to say that the wine was the highlight of the evening? Duffy asked. "Or was it the architecture?"
Answered Driehaus: “Both, because there wouldn’t be the wine without the architecture." Ha! He chuckled to himself again.
Driehaus, an aficionado of architecture told of an evening at the Hannon mansion that included numerous bottles of fine wine. Driehaus' motivation in the 2003 meeting with Rezko and Hannon was to tour the architecturally significant home. It is set on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.

Rezko trial: "I don't pay money to get money."

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A highly successful Chicago fund manager and philanthropist Richard Driehaus takes the stand.

Driehaus said he met Tony Rezko at the home of mutual acquaintance Charles Hannon. Hannon, a longtime Rezko family friend, previously testified Rezko told Driehaus about an opportunity to do business with the state. Driehaus bolstered that testimony today. He said after a dinner at the Hannon Winnetka mansion, he and Rezko talked business in the basement.

Monday, Monday

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After resting at home over the weekend -- and not in Metropolitan Correctional Center -- for the first time since January, Tony Rezko appeared in good spirits this morning in federal court. He wore a big smile at times and appeared a bit more relaxed. For the first time since his trial started, he is able to walk freely in the hallways during breaks. He previously would return to custody and could only whisper greetings to his family. Today, during the morning break, Rezko walked with his son.

As for jurors, a couple of them apparently could have used more sleep this weekend.
Only 30 minutes into the case this morning, two jurors were nodding off.

Up this week: A few new witnesses, including Steve Loren, a Stuart Levine cohort who acted as an attorney for the Teachers' Retirement System. On Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said the prosecution's case could wrap up in a couple of weeks -- but definitely by the end of May.

Tony's back at home

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Mr. Rezko has left the building

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For the first time since late January, Tony Rezko walked out of a federal courthouse into the fresh air.

Just moments ago, Rezko, with a couple of family members (or friends) at his side, walked out of the Dirksen Federal Building and with photographers and reporters running after him, he rushed toward an awaiting black Cadillac Escalade. Right before he got there he was met by a tall man -- the two gave each other a giant hug. Rezko was beaming.

Rezko's family was waiting for some time near and around the federal courthouse before Rezko's release. One of his son's and other family members grabbed lunch at McDonald's -- to go -- just before Rezko walked out of the building.

Rezko freed on bond

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By Natasha Korecki
Federal Courts Reporter/nkorecki@suntimes.com

After spending 2 1/2 months in a downtown federal lockup, Tony Rezko will be allowed free to spend nights in his Wilmette mansion, a judge ruled this afternoon. The decision came after more than a dozen individuals pledged equity in their homes to secure Rezko's bond.
Rezko will be kept under home arrest and on electronic monitoring.
Friends and famiy stepped forward to post more than $8 million in property equity and an additional Rezko’s wife, Rita, put up another $380,000 in cash as insurance that Rezko will not flee.
Both Rita Rezko and Tony Rezko spoke to the judge in open court, under oath, and swore to the amount of assets they own and vowed to tell the judge of any new money that came to them.
U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve issued her ruling this afternoon.
The pledge of $8 million is $6 million more than what friends and family posted on Rezko’s behalf in 2006.
It appears that behind closed doors, St. Eve has cleared up some issues tied to a $3.8 million wire transfer Rezko didn’t disclose to the court last year. Most of that money went toward legal fees, according to St. Eve.
"My decision is based in part in the significant number of individuals from the community coming forward, knowing full well that they will lose it if you fail to come to court and comply with conditions of the bond," St. Eve said.
If Rezko flees: "You will leave me no choice to foreclose on these 30 individuals and take, what is in some instances, is their entire life savings," she said. "$8 million Is a very very high bond. Certainly one of the higher I have ever seen set in this building."

Looks like Tony will be freed on bond

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By Natasha Korecki
Federal Courts Reporter/nkorecki@suntimes.com

Judge Amy St. Eve appears poised to release Tony Rezko out on bond, secured to more than $8 million in property. Rezko's wife, Rita, also pledged $380,000 in cash.

St. Eve has not yet made a formal ruling. But she has asked specific questions about people's properties who are posting to secure Rezko's bond.
She also specifically said she wanted a specific property posted because it brought $100,000 in equity, even though lawyers said they didn't think it was needed to get to $8 million.

She may also have cleared up a significant issue tied to a $3.8 million wire transfer from Lebanon.
St. Eve said she interviewed attorneys behind closed doors, under oath, who told her where the largest portions of a $3.8 million wire transfer went. Much of that money, she said, went to pay lawyers.
That transfer, came from the sale of Rezko's 62-acre parcel of South Loop land. It is the reason Rezko ended up behind bars Jan. 28.

Will judge release Rezko on bond?

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When testimony concludes today, Judge Amy St. Eve will decide whether Tony Rezko should be released on bond. He's been in jail since he was arrested Jan. 28.

Though the circumstances are different in the Rezko case, St. Eve is the same judge who allowed bond for two defendants accused of having ties to Hamas terror funding. St. Eve allowed the two free on bond despite passioned pleas from the prosecution to keep them behind bars so they wouldn't flee.

Muhammad Salah and Abdelhaleem Ashqar didn't flee and were ultimately convicted on lesser charges.
During and before trial, St. Eve set tight restrictions on the two, including house arrest and requiring a GPS monitoring bracelet for Ashqar.

Rezko trial: More on investments

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We're back in this morning with Daniel Rosenberg on the stand. He's from Sterling Partners, which sought business with the Teachers' Retirement Systems. (See earlier blog post regarding Myron Cherry)

We'll go half a day in court today and then the judge may decide whether to release Rezko on bond.

Rezko recap

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A summary of yesterday's testimony read today's story in the Sun-Times.

Prosecutor Carolyn McNiven argued to Judge Amy St. Eve that Tony Rezko shouldn't be trusted

"He has a ... greater interest now than ever to flee possible incarceration from this case," McNiven said.
"He has quite literally taken million of dollars from people whom he considered his closest friends."

Rezko was able to do that, she said: "Because he is very very good at lying."
It’s not a matter of whether those people will lose their homes and their properties, but how quickly," she said.

Rezko's lawyer, William Ziegelmueller, had a different take.

Friends step up to try to free Rezko

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A series of friends of Tony Rezko have stepped up and offered up their properties in exchange for his release on bond.

The first person, "Kevin" Razko (no, that's not misspelled) of Hinsdale, told the judge he's willing to post $112,000 equity in his home and risk losing his property if Rezko flees. Tony Rezko is cousin's of Razko's father, he said.
The judge is warning all these people she'll take their properties if Rezko flees.

Rezko's lawyers say 16 or 17 people are posting their properties.

Rezko trial: Finder's fees is the game

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Myron “Mike” Cherry, a Chicago lawyer and Democratic fund-raiser comes up in court.

Daniel Rosenberg of Sterling Venture Partners testified he was seeking an investment with a state pension fund, but he was told he first had to name a consultant and direct a finder's fee to that person.

Rezko trial: Another new witness

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Charles Hannon finishes his testimony and a new witness took the stand, Daniel Rosenberg, who worked with Sterling Partners. Sterling wanted state pension fund business.

Sterling sought a $60 million investment from the fund.

Rezko trial: Hannon the adventurer

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Charles Hannon testifies he's president of the elite Adventurers Club, having traveled to dozens of exotic locations like Egypt and Russia. He walks us through his life of wealth, beginning with his "spectacular home" that even has a name "Casa del Lago," which is perched on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in Winnetka. It's also the infamous location where Tony Rezko first met the star witness in his case, Stuart Levine.

The 72-year-old says when Gov. Blagojevich took office, Rezko told him he could have a job of his choosing with the state.
"Did you really want to find a job at 69?" Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy asked.
"I started climbing mountains at 65," Hannon said, in a deep baritone voice.

More to the point, Hannon testifies that Rezko thought up a no-work contract where Hannon would make $80,000.

Rezko trial: Rezko asks to get out of jail

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By Natasha Korecki
Federal Courts Reporter

Tony Rezko's lawyers have renewed their request to get Rezko out of jail, where he's been since his late January arrest.

Today, his lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve to release him in $8 million bond secured to a
number of properties and in addition, Rezko and his wife, Rita, would post $350,000 in cash, according to a defense filing.

Non-Rezko trial over

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We heard about Obama, Blagojevich, David Wilhelm, Nadhmi Auchi, William Cellini, Bob Kjellander and don't forget Stuart Levine.

Today though, the allegations actually fall squarely on the defendant = Tony Rezko.

In so many words, witness Charles Hannon said Rezko offered he and his wife, Fortunee Massuda, a quid pro quo involving Gov. Blagojevich's controversial proposal to lease the Thompson Center. Rezko, who at the time owed the couple $7 million, offered to sign on Massuda as a consultant for whomever signed up to lease the State of Illinois Building -- known as the Thompson Center. Hannon said Rezko made the offer while in his office. It was an offer that Massuda flatly refused, Hannon testified.

Rezko trial: Rezko swept for bugs

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Witness Chuck Hannon testifies that Tony Rezko told him he periodically hired professionals to check if his phone was tapped.

Hannon told of another interesting conversation allegedly that took place between himself and Rezko in Rezko's home.

"He asked me if I knew that even that my cell pone was turned off, conversations could be listened to. I said, really? That strikes me ... I was surprised," Hannon said.

"He told me, the way to deal with that was to take the battery out."
"What did he do? " Prosecutor Reid Schar asked. "He took the battery out ... of his cell phone," Hannon said. "I didn’t have any reason to take the battery out of my cell phone."

Rezko trial: New witness

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Tony Rezko associate Charles Hannon takes the stand.

The Winnetka resident, who is married to another state board member, Dr. Fortunee Massuda,
said he and his wife loaned Rezko more than $7 million to cover debts, payroll in his businesses and real estate taxes.

Rezko still owes the couple $3.5 million today.

Hannon is now talking about Rezko, back in 2002, offering him his pick of state posts. Hannon is testifying under a grant of immunity from prosecution.

70-degree day shines on St. Eve

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Or at least it will now... U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve just ended a little early for the day. She told jurors to enjoy the 70-degree day.

A fax from Turks & Caicos.
An associate barging into a meeting announcing she had to do so or she'd be fired.
An unknown man on the line demanding action.
“I’m very close with the governor," the man, (who turns out to be Joseph Cari) said: “This is how the governor handles patronage.”
Which governor?
“The governor of the state of Illinois,” said Clyde Robinson, a director of investor relations from JER Partners, who took us through the series of events this afternoon.

Joe Cari leaves the stand

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Joseph Cari finished his testimony shortly after lunch break. He hailed a cab after leaving the courthouse and got in without his lawyer. A flurry of cameras surrounded him but he didn't want to comment when asked.

Cari's departure came after he told of an interesting exchange.

And he's ever-present everywhere

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Stuart Levine has left the building but he has not left the courtroom.
Levine, the star witness against Rezko, is heard on tape this morning and his name comes up repeatedly as lawyer Joseph Duffy questions attorney Joseph Cari.

Rezko trial: Blago once had higher hopes

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Joseph Cari gave some pretty compelling testimony his first day on the stand Tuesday.

Read Chris Fusco's story today: Rezko witness: Gov. Dreamed of White House

Breast cancer conversation

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Joe Cari and Tony Rezko both married women named Rita. Both women also had breast cancer, jurors learned today at Rezko's trial.

"I do remember a conversation that his [Rezko's] wife, unfortunately, had medical issues," Cari testified, recalling the time he met Rezko at Rezko's office. "I do remember Mr. Rezko speaking of his wife suffering from breast cancer."

Cari's wife died in 2002.

The Rezko family has not discussed Rita Rezko's breast cancer, but Mrs.
Rezko has been at her husband's trial every day and appears healthy.


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After Stuart Levine concluded his testimony, which stretched out over 15 days, he was seen near his lawyer's office (in the Monodnock Building a short walk from the federal building) giving a big hug to a member of his legal team.

Blagojevich: 'I'm in good company'

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Gov. Blagojevich was asked about the Rezko trial during a press event today.
Here's what he had to say:

"I'm not involved in that lawsuit. I should say I'm not in that lawsuit. I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on a pending case that I'm not in.

"Whether you are the lieutenant governor and your name is brought up in that situation, or the governor, or other political figures, that just sort of goes along with the territory."

On the witness stand, Joe Cari has detailed multiple attempts by Gov. Blagojevich and people close to him in 2003 and 2004 to solicit Cari's help in raising money for the governor on a national scale.

Joe Cari has testified that he was introduced to Gov. Blagojevich’s inner circle through Blagojevich’s former campaign manager and transition chief, David Wilhelm.

“David is one of my closest personal friends for 20 years. He was a pallbearer for my wife,” Cari said.

That led to a discussion about Cari’s state of mind since his wife’s passing from cancer in 2002.

“Had your wife passed in 2002?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid J. Schar asked.

“Yes sir,” Cari replied.

“Since that time, have you been on various medications for depression?”

Cari replied yes.

“Are you on medication now?”

“Yes sir.”

“Do you feel it affects your ability to remember events or occurrences?”


Later, Schar asked, “from time to time, does it take a little longer for you to digest everything?”

“That’s a very fair way of saying it,” Cari replied.

Joseph Cari takes the stand

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Joseph Cari has taken the stand. The former top fund-raiser for Democrats including Al Gore is telling jurors about his plea agreement. He says he's expecting a two-and-half-year sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. Cari, who could have served as many as six years in prison, has admitted to participating in a shakedown of JER Partners, which was seeking state pension business.

Levine mum as he left court today

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Stuart Levine was cordial - but had little to say - as he left the federal building.

On the 12th floor, after leaving court, he told a reporter seeking a comment, "I can't now, sir. So sorry."

Then, after walking out the door, Levine was asked on the sidewalk if he thought his testimony went well.

"I'm not an expert in that," he said. "I can't comment."

Before Levine left, prosecutors on re-direct spent about 20 minutes re-asking Levine about statements he made on telephone calls the FBI was secretly recording in 2003 and 2004.

They appeared to be trying to show jurors that Levine was implicating himself and Rezko in crimes without any motivation to cooperate with authorities.

Stuart Levine finishes testifying

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Levine has finished testifying.

"You do not need to return unless you receive further notice," U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve told him after 25 minutes of questioning.

After weeks of testimony, Stuart Levine might finally get off the witness stand today in Tony Rezko's corruption trial.

Rezko's lead defense lawyer, Joseph Duffy, wrapped up his cross-examination of Levine, the prosecution's star witness against Rezko, at noon.

The prosecution is doing its re-direct now.

As he finished questioning Levine, Duffy tried to show jurors that Levine was doing whatever it took to avoid a life sentence by testifying against Rezko. Levine is expected to spend 67 months in prison in exchange for his testimony.

"You understood that, in order to get this benefit, you had to cooperate against somebody, isn't that right?" Duffy asked Levine.

"Actually, Mr. Duffy, that was not my understanding," Levine replied.

After another Duffy question, Levine clarified what he meant.

"My understanding is as follows - that I understand that I would be asked questions that the government would put to me, that I would have to answer those questions honestly, and I would give the government that honest information as to whatever individual or subject matter I was asked about."

Today's story

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Read how Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama's name surfaced in Tony Rezko's trial Monday.

Obama on Auchi in his own words

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U.S. Presidential candidate Barack Obama sat down with Chicago Sun-Times reporters March 14th and answered a laundry list of questions regarding his relationship with Tony Rezko.

At that time, reporters also asked Obama about whether he had a relationship with Nadhmi Auchi.

Read on for the Q & A...

Rezko trial: Who didn't bring up Obama

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The reception involving Nadhmi Auchi was mentioned before in the Tony Rezko trial, but just briefly.
And while the defense seemed to go out of its way to ask star witness Stuart Levine today whether U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and his wife attended the reception, the prosecution seemed to also go out of its way -- to not ask that question.

A meeting and a fiery exchange

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In an attempt to torpedo one of Stuart Levine’s most significant allegations against Tony Rezko, defense lawyer Joseph Duffy
spends part of the afternoon going over a meeting at the Standard Club between the Rezko and Levine.
It was during that meeting in 2003, that Levine contends he and Rezko decided to divvy up $7.8 million in kickbacks from various firms who had business before the two state boards that Levine sat on.
The two met alone on the fourth floor in a private room at the Standard Club. That much is backed up by a recorded phone call and a receipt.
But so far, we have Levine’s word on exactly was said that night -- and his secretly recorded conversation with a friend discussing what was said that night.
Levine testified that Rezko agreed to walk away with $3.9 million in illegal kickbacks in his share alone.
Levine said the money would be run through his friend Dr. Robert Weinstein and then kicked back to Rezko and himself with Weinstein also getting a share.
But Duffy picks apart the recorded conversation with Weinstein, saying it could be read that Weinstein and Levine were simply going to split the money, with Rezko not getting a share.

Rezko trial: Who has the bad memory now?

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After days of teasing star witness Stuart Levine about his faulty memory, it was Joseph Duffy who got his dates mixed up today.

Duffy misstated a date several times when trying to ask Levine about a specific event. Duffy apologized for getting it wrong.

In a light tone, Levine told Duffy not to worry about it:
“We can all forget things, Mr. Duffy,” Levine said.

The irony was not lost on anyone following this trial.

Obama bomb dropped

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When Tony Rezko held a reception at his home for Iraqi-born billionaire Nadhmi Auchi on April 3, 2004, White House hopeful Barack Obama and his wife were also there, Stuart Levine testified just now at Rezko's trial.

Auchi is the man who provided Rezko a $3.5 million loan that Rezko did not disclose to the court -- resulting in his January arrest.
"Mr. and Mrs. Obama were there, were they not?" Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy asked.
"Yes, sir," Levine said.
Obama and his aides have said Obama has no recollection of ever meeting Auchi.
Rezko invited Levine to the reception after the two met up with each other during a family vacation in Puerto Vallarta. Rezko had to leave early to arrange for the reception, Levine testified. So Levine offered to rent a larger jet and fly Rezko's wife and children back to Chicago. That night, they all attended the reception.

The reception was aimed at getting Auchi interested in investing in Illinois, Levine said.

(Blagojevich with Auchi)

Does political fundraising equal corruption?

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A highlight exchange this morning with Stuart Levine back on the stand and Joseph Duffy still asking questions:
Duffy: “You would agree with me that political fund-raising is different than engaging in a corrupt transaction?”
Levine: “It can be.”

Can prosecutors pick up the pieces?

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After Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy is done beating up Stuart Levine this week, can the prosecution make their star witness credible again?

Read today's story: Star witness badly tarnished -- again

Iraqi connection

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A 60 Minutes report Sunday evening that focused on corruption in Iraq mentioned a Chicago area man with connections to Tony Rezko. He is Aiham Alsammarae, former minister of electricity in Iraq who was jailed on corruption charges. He somehow escaped prison there and is back living in a Chicago suburb.
A court filing in the Rezko case indicated that prosecutors in a closed session alleged that Rezko had paid Alsammarae a $1.5 million bribe in connection with an Iraqi power plant deal, which ultimately never happened.

Read the transcript and watch the video of the 60 Minutes Report: Iraq: State of Corruption

Rezko trial: Radio talk

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Every Friday, WLS radio show host Jerry Agar runs a special segment on the Rezko trial.
(I'm on as guest)

Here's the segment.

Listen: Jerry Agar Show

Representatives from Swissôtel Chicago announced today that they have BANNED Stuart Levine from staying at their hotel.
They call his behavior shocking and "unacceptable."

Levine, the current star witness to testify against Tony Rezko, testified he took part in day-long drug binges using hard-core drugs with other men, at various hotels, including the Swissôtel. But most of those binges happened at the Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood.
Read their press release...

With jury away, the defense will play

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Right after the jury left for the afternoon break, Stuart Levine left the witness stand and Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy fell to the floor.
He was joking around, something that left fellow defense lawyers, Rezko and even the prosecutors laughing.

He may have been mocking exhaustion after enduring a protracted exchange between himself and Levine. More and more, Levine has been emboldened to not directly answer questions, give extra details and ask Duffy things such as:
“May I ask you to define spokesman, please?”

Duffy to Levine: 'Do you have telepathic powers?'

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Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy chides witness Stuart Levine for his answers regarding a transcript review. Levine tells Duffy he corrected Rezko in a conversation when Rezko misspoke.
The correction is not obvious.
"Do you have telepathic powers, Mr. Levine?" Duffy asked. "Tell us where you corrected him?"

Judge Amy St. Eve admonished witness Stuart Levine after a morning filled with lengthy exchanges between Levine and defense lawyer Joseph Duffy.

Levine sometimes asked Duffy questions, quibbled with wording of those questions and even told Duffy at one point: "That is an absolute -- and understandable -- misreading of the facts as I know the facts ... as I was there and you were not."

St. Eve, during the morning break, admonished Levine: "Please listen to the question ... and answer the question. You are not here to engage in a conversation ... You are in your third week of testimony. At the rate we’re going you’re still going to be on the stand in May."

We've reached the point of ridiculousness

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Lawyer Joseph Duffy and witness Stuart Levine spend more than an hour sparring over one question.
That is, whether Levine and a fellow board member Thomas Beck, talked about getting orders from Tony Rezko before an April 21, 2004 health planning board meeting.

We go through transcript after transcript, with Duffy trying to get Levine to admit there was no such discussion and Levine parsing words, asking Duffy to repeat, telling Duffy he, Duffy, made an error in his statement, or gave an incomplete statement prior to asking the question.

"Sir," Duffy insisted firmly just now. "Answer MY question."
"What is your question?" Levine asks lightly.

Rezko trial: Late start

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We're still waiting on a juror this morning...

In the meantime,read today's story: Levine: Governor had Rezko keep tabs on Wilhelm


A facade of politeness

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You just really got to wonder what these two men would say to each other if they weren’t bound by federal courtroom rules.

Joseph Duffy and witness Stuart Levine have been sparring for five days, over words, quotes, tapes, Math.


They each try to behave politely, ending their questions or answers with “yes sir,” and “no, sir.”
And when they disagree, they interject: “I’m very sorry, sir, I thought I was answering your question,” for example.
But you can read between the lines. They'd like to express themselves a little differently.

Rezko trial: What's 5% of $20 million?

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"Much more than than $1 million," star witness Stuart Levine answered confidently.

Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy asked again.
Levine responded: "5 percent of $20 million would be $5 million."
Then a few seconds of silence.
"$1 million," Levine blurted out, correcting himself.
"That's what I thought," Duffy mumbled. "You're scaring me."

Why does anyone care?

Joseph Duffy questions Stuart Levine's testimony to prosecutors that he convinced Rezko to back a proposal to pass Mercy Hospital by dangling the possibility of a kickback or campaign contribution.
Rezko was against the Mercy plan, Levine testified, until Levine told him they could make money for themselves or Gov. Blagojevich.
"Rezko didn’t even hesitate, your testimony is, using the words 'you bet?”
Levine agreed.
"Have you ever heard Mr. Rezko use the words 'you bet' ... But this was a unique situation, was it not?" Duffy asked sarcastically.
"Yes sir," Levine said.

Here's more: Read our story for background: Levine: Bribe talk got Rezko to back hospital

No trial for sleeping men

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If one can stay awake, this morning's testimony is pretty interesting.

But two courtroom observers (who shall remain unnamed) completely conked out in the overflow room. One was so out, his head fell completely backward. He stayed that way for several minutes.

More caffeine needed in this room.

Rezko trial: Revisiting the Standard Club

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Joseph Duffy picks away at Stuart Levine's memory.
Levine claims he met with Tony Rezko at the Standard Club in April of 2004 to talk about splitting up kickbacks. There's evidence that the two had dinner that night. But jurors must rely only on Levine's word
(and what he told Rezko on tape) to believe the two talked about kickbacks.

Gov. Blagojevich’s onetime campaign chairman and former Democratic party national chairman David Wilhelm comes up for much of this morning.
Stuart Levine testifies that Tony Rezko told him to track Wilhelm’s business in front of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. Rezko allegedly told Levine that the orders came from the governor -- also known as “the Big guy” -- in this trial.

Rezko trial: How Levine gave back

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Read today's story: Levine hands out cash

We're back in this morning for day 12 of Levine on the stand.

Levine: I was drunk with power

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Ending the day, Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy asked if Levine ever said that he felt "drunk with power"
when he was scheming behind the scenes to direct multi-million dollar decisions on two state boards he sat on.

Levine said he doesn't know if he had said that but: “I certainly felt that way.”

For the first time in 11 days on the stand, one could hear impatience in Levine's voice as he answered question after question from Duffy.

Levine: Would you repeat that question?

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My unscientific tally so far today indicates star witness Stuart Levine asked Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy 13 times to repeat his question (add one more time, as I write this).

Could be due to Levine's faulty memory.

Or, might just be something that happens on the 11th day on the stand, after facing hundreds of questions.

"YESSIR"-God bless you

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Levine's repeated answers to the last several questions sound like sneezes, one reporter in the overflow courtroom comments.

"Yessir!" Levine repeats time and again in response to questions posed by lawyer Joseph Duffy. Levine must be leaning into the microphone because the "yessirs" are coming out quite loudly and do sound like sneezes.

The overflow courtroom is on the 17th floor, and a place where video and sound from the trial are piped in.

Down to 16 jurors

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Judge Amy St. Eve announced today she dismissed a second juror, a younger male, who called in sick this morning.

It is the second juror to be dismissed because of illness. So we're down to 16 jurors, down from 18. For the panel, that's 12 jurors and four alternates.

Had enough of Levine yet?

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I believe it's day 11 of Stuart Levine on the stand in Tony Rezko's trial.

Are readers still savoring every word, or have we had enough yet?

Rezko trial: Levine's memory clears up

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Stuart Levine gives specifics on a Nov. 2, 2002 dinner party where Levine said he first met Tony Rezko. Levine, who yesterday couldn't recall what year he pleaded guilty, (2006), lays out where everyone sat at the dining room table and gave specifics about what was said that evening.

A few weeks before Christmas every year, Stuart Levine drove around town passing out envelopes stuffed with cash to drivers, doormen, secretaries, valets and any one else who gave him good service during the year, he said.

It totaled $50,000 in Christmas gifts, Levine said.

Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy doesn't believe him.
"$50,000 in cash, every year, to people who gave you good service?" Duffy asked sarcastically.
“Yes, sir,” Levine answered enthusiastically.

Rezko trial: Levine talks about day in November

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Stuart Levine is back on the stand this morning and is expected to continue his testimony about Nov. 2, 2002. That's the day he says he met Tony Rezko. But his testimony yesterday showed us his memory isn't always reliable.

Rezko trial: Levine's mistaken memory

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Stuart Levine just testified that he met the late Orlando Jones (godson of the late John Stroger) for the first time at a dinner party Nov. 2, 2002. That's the same dinner party where Levine said he met Tony Rezko for the first time.
But there was something that doesn't make sense about Levine's testimony.

The dance continues between defense lawyer Joseph Duffy and chief witness Stuart Levine with Levine not budging from his insistence that he spent just $2,000 on drugs each month.

Levine tells Duffy he withdrew more than $1 million in cash in a five-year period but he maintains he only spent $2,000 or so on drugs each month. The rest of the cash was spent in a variety of different ways.

Here's some of them:

How much money did Stuart Levine spend monthly on his use of illegal drugs?
This is a point of contention between chief government witness and Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy for much of the afternoon so far. Duffy shows check after check that Levine made out to cash. Some months totaled $40,000, others $28,000. Levine said he used the cash on bribes, "gratuities," cash gifts, and to pay caretakers for his father.

But Levine estimates he spent $2,000 a month and $20,000 a YEAR on drugs. He came up with that calculation, he said, just weeks before taking the witness stand. He read in the newspaper earlier this year that he was spending $25,000 a MONTH on Crystal Meth.
Levine specifically said remembers "distinctly being enraged at reading the Chicago Tribune," over that report.

Rezko trial: Levine 'amazed' by snorting sounds

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In a morning session that felt more like Stuart Levine was the one on trial, we hear very intricate details of Levine's drug use. He also reveals his day-long drug binges didn't only happen at the Purple Hotel. "On rare occasion," Levine partied at the Drake Hotel, the Four Seasons Hotel and the Swiss Grand Hotel, he said.

A couple of highlights:
-- Tony Rezko lawyer Duffy asked Levine whether Levine's secretary heard him snorting Crystal Meth in his office.
"If my snorting was so loud that you could hear me through a wall or door, then I'm quite amazed by the loudness of my snorting," Levine said, not flinching.

On Friday, star witness Stuart Levine said he was suited up with a covert wire and asked to "accidentally bump into" former Ald. William Singer. Levine was supposed to capture Singer on tape but even though the two talked -- the recording didn't work.
The possible explanation? The button in Levine's Armani suit coat may have accidentally tripped the switch of the recording device, shutting it off.

Defense questioning reveals that the feds followed Singer, monitoring his movements ...

Rezko trial: 10/27/06

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Here's the story we wrote in October, 2006, when Levine pleaded guilty.

This morning, star prosecution witness Stuart Levine says pleading guilty was one of the most significant days of his life. He agrees it was the culmination of all his efforts with the government, which included more than 100 meetings. But when Tony Rezko's lawyer, Joseph Duffy, asks Levine specifics, he can't remember.

Rezko trial: happy Monday morning

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Stuart Levine will be back on the stand this morning. We expect him to finish the story he started Friday: his efforts to wear a wire and secretly record former Ald. William Singer. From the line of questioning last week, it sounded as if Levine had accidentally shut off one of his recording devices. Levine was asked by the feds to "accidentally bump into" Singer in his neighborhood and get him on tape talking about a deal involving a Gold Coast property.


Read today's story: Levine's undercover attempt

Also to note: we tried unsuccessfully Friday to reach both William Singer and his lawyer for comment on the above article.

Rezko trial: The wire that never was?

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At the end of today's session, it sounds like Stuart Levine was asked to wear a wire on Bill Singer -- who was involved in the sale of a downtown medical building -- but accidentally shut it off.

Done for the day -- weary reporters are happy

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I can personally say that this week's testimony has taken its toll on the reporting crew covering this trial.
We're looking haggard today, the hair's a little in disarray, we're splitting thermos' of coffee. Many of us are wearing jeans.
The testimony this week has been like nothing we've heard since the trial began in early March.
That means we've missed many dinners with our families this week as we put together stories for the evening news or the next day's paper (or in my case, paper, blog and online updates).

Here's to more good stuff next week.

A little Xanax and a session with the feds

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Stuart Levine testifies that he met with government agents 41 times in 2006. At that time, he was taking the prescription drug, Xanax, an anti-anxiety narcotic.

But in none of those sessions did Levine's more than 30 years of use of illegal drugs come up, Levine said.

Rezko trial: Levine's most significant moment

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In 2006, Stuart Levine’s decision to cooperate with the government was a frightening, profound experience, he told Tony Rezko's lawyer Joseph Duffy.
“The nature of the meeting was such that I have never experienced,” Levine recounted in his first meeting with government agents after his decision to cooperate. "There were things that were going on in my mind at that time that were most extraordinary and outside of the realm of any experience I had before sir.”

Defense on the attack

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Read today's story: Defense attacks 'con man'

Charges at the Purple Hotel

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We're back in this morning and defense lawyer Joseph Duffy is going through Stuart Levine's credit card statements -- pointing out different dates Levine stayed at the Purple Hotel.

The main date in question is Nov. 2, 2002 when Levine had a $761.87 charge to his credit card at the hotel. Levine previously testified he met Tony Rezko that night.
How could Levine have had a meeting with Rezko the same night that he took part in a drug binge at the Purple Hotel? Levine quibbled that the date might be wrong -- saying the date of the transaction on his credit card statement might be different from the date he stayed there.
"I have no recollection of it, so I suppose it’s possible but I don’t have a recollection of it," Levine said.

Rezko trial: Lying Levine

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Once Stuart Levine decided to cooperate, he had to promise to tell the truth or lose it all.

"Well somewhere in the course of your cooperation you lied to them, did you not?"
"Yes sir."
Levine lied to the chief prosecutor in the case and to two FBI agents when he failed to disclose an alleged kickback scheme with former powerful Ald. Ed Vrdolyak.
“I lied in an attempt, stupidly, thinking I was smarter than the government and I could keep Ed Vrdolyak out of trouble,” Levine said.
"As a result of your lying," Duffy stated, drawing out each word. "Nothing hapened to you."
"The interview was stopped and there was a conversation with my lawyer,"
"If they hadn’t have caught you, you wouldn’t have come clean, is that right?"
"Yes, sir."

Levine: Faced threat of dying in prison

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Rezko lawyer Joe Duffy tried depicting Levine as the man who the feds wanted to use to catch "the big fish." After the feds indicted Levine twice, Duffy said Levine had a choice:
"You cannot cooperate and basically die in prison?"
"That was a possibility," Levine admitted.

Levine gave to his favorite charity --himself

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Stuart Levine admits he started a charity organization, NSO, with his friend Robert Weinstein so the two could make personal use of charity money. Setting up NSO allowed them to transfer money from a foundation they controlled IDDRS and use the money the way they wanted.

Rezko defense: Levine made his secretary cry

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Tony Rezko's lawyer, Joseph Duffy, intent on exposing Stuart Levine's memory problems, brings up Levine's lapse when recounting a $3 million check.
In 2004, Levine sent his secretary home crying after he argued with her over who signed the $3 million check. Levine insisted it wasn't his signature and believed she had signed it for him.

Levine was so sure of himself that a colleague hired a hand-writing expert to show Levine who really signed the check, Duffy revealed through his questions.
The answer: it was, indeed, Levine.

"You truly did not have a recollection of ever signing this check, isn’t that true?" Duffy asked.
"I didn’t remember signing that check because I did not remember the Lamal Enterprises transaction in the time and the manner the check was shown to me," Levine responded.
"And you don’t have a memory problem?" Duffy teased. "No sir," Levine said.

Stealing from a dead man's children

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Recap of Levine cross this morning: Defense rips witness

Suit jacket off

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Joseph Duffy spends the hour lunch break inside the courtroom, suit jacket off, as he studies dozens of papers before him. He leaves the room just once, briefly.

Stuart Levine is in for more tough questioning after the break.

Rezko trial: Defense tricks work on witness

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Tony Rezko's lawyer Joseph Duffy asked a simple question.
Was Stuart Levine a felon? Levine hesitated for just a second in his answer -- Duffy, who is picking at Levine's memory problems -- picked up on it and pounced.
"You seem as if you don't recall telling the jury if you are a felon," Duffy asked.
"No, I recall that information was given to the jury that I was a felon," Levine insisted.

Levine fell into the trap.

Levine: A bagman is a homeless person?

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Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy hammers Levine with questions about his memory and drug use, tripping him up along the way. Duffy and Levine get into an almost comical discussion over the definition of a bagman. Duffy asked if Levine considered his friend, Sven Sorensen, his bagman.
"You affectionately refer to him as your bagman," Duffy said of Sorensen.
But Levine quibbled with the use of the word bagman.

"Was Mr. Sorensen asked to receive money on your behalf?"
"Yes sir."
"And by the way, that would be illegal money? Duffy asked. "Y---es sir.
"What is your definition of bagman?" Duffy asked. "I would use your definition"

Rezko trial: Attack on chief witness begins

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Looking like a caged animal dying to come out for an attack, defense lawyer Joseph Duffy launched question after question at Stuart Levine, setting traps for him along the way. Levine got caught up in those traps pretty quickly.
Levine had to be expecting such an attack. But he appeared shaken, shifting in his seat more often, taking deer-in-the-headlights pauses before answering.
The first few questions went like this:
"You’ve been involved in criminal activity your entire adult life, isn't that correct?"
"No sir," Levine said.
"Tell us what part of your adult life you were not involved in criminal activity," Duffy pressed.
"In no part of my adult life was I not involved in criminal activity,"
"Sir, wasn't that the question I just asked?" Duffy raised his voice, sounding incredulous.
"Yes, sir," Levine repeated.
"You were involved in criminal activity your entire life. You want to change your answer?"
"No sir...Would you explain to me Mr. Duffy, adult life?"

Explosive cross examination begins

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Defense attorney comes out swinging as he takes on Stuart Levine for the first time in cross examination.
Duffy's first question: "You've been involved in criminal activity your entire adult life, is that correct?" Duffy asked.
"No," Levine said.
Duffy raised his voice and mocked Levine immediately. Levine eventually caved and changed his answer to yes.
"Thank you," Duffy said.

Levine: 'The Big Guy knew'

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Rezko trial: Levine still on direct

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The prosecution's star witness, Stuart Levine, takes the stand for the eighth day -- but he's still on direct examination. The talk this morning so far, is about more finder's fees -- a.k.a. kickbacks -- through the Teachers' Retirement System.
In this case though, Levine said Tony Rezko asked Levine to accommodate a friend, Michael Winter, but there was no talk about a finder's fee. Rezko allegedly asked Levine to help Winter get an investment from TRS. Levine called up his friend Jon Bauman, TRS' executive director, and asked him for help
"Did Mr. Rezko explain why?" Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked.

A name we haven't heard at Rezko trial

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Earlier today, City Club board member Kathy Posner introduced former State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka as "A woman
who should be governor of Illinois, whose name will never be mentioned at
the [Tony] Rezko trial" at a City Club luncheon Wednesday. The luncheon promoted Karen Abbott’s new book about Chicago’s best-known brothel, the Everleigh Club.
The crowd erupted
in applause, prompting Posner to add, "If all of you had really voted for
her, she'd be governor, so a lot of you are being phony in this room."


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Stuart Levine just testified that Rezko told him and Kelly that he made Blagojevich aware of the Rosenberg "situation."
Levine said the disclosure came at a May 11, 2004 meeting in Rezko's office in which Levine, Kelly and Rezko were trying to come up with a strategy to handle Rosenberg's threats to go to authorities over a shakedown scheme.
"Mr. Rezko indicated to me that he had made the governor aware of the situation and the things Mr. Rosenberg had said," Levine testified. There was no elaboration about to what extent Blagojevich allegedly knew of the situation.
"But he felt this (a $220 million state investment) was the last thing that Mr. Rosenberg should get from the state," Rezko told Levine that Blagojevich had related to him. "The governor indicated he doesn’t care what happens to Mr. Rosenberg. He feels he owes Mr. Rosenberg nothing."
This is the first testimony we've heard that Blagojevich knew about the Rosenberg scheme. The governor has repeatedly said he has nothing to do with this trial.

'Secret tape reveals extortion attempt'

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Read today's story: Tape reveals extortion attempt

Rezko to coschemers: Disarm dangerous situation

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Stuart Levine testified he met in Tony Rezko's office with Rezko and Chris Kelly to talk about how to handle Tom Rosenberg. They got William Cellini on the phone and discussed how to handle the situation, according to Levine.

Rosenberg had threatened to go to authorities when he thought he was being shaken down for a campaign contribution to Gov. Blagojevich.

Levine testified that Rezko stepped up and said "the situation should be dealt with dispassionately, the situation should be disarmed," Levine said. Levine said Rezko told them he believed "Mr. Rosenberg was a dangerous individual ... no one should talk to Mr. Rosenberg about a campaign contributions," Levine said Rezko told them.


After Tom Rosenberg threatened to go to authorities about an alleged shakedown scheme, the behind-the-scenes players were in a frenzy, according to Stuart Levine's testimony and tapes played today.
Blagojevich fund-raiser Christopher Kelly called William Cellini and Stuart Levine -- at one point he talked to both at the same time on different cell phones. That's according to calls played today.

Kelly could be heard on a recording -- the first time we hear Kelly on tape -- arranging to meet with Levine at Rezko's office. We're told the meeting was set to discuss Rosenberg's threats to go to authorities.
We'll soon find out what they discussed.
"He could hear Mr. Kelly talking to me," Levine explained to jurors. "Mr. Kelly was talking on one cell phone with Mr. Cellini and while on the phone with Mr. Cellini, picked up another cell phone and called me."

Levine cross could happen

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Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner told Judge Amy St. Eve there's a chance he could finish his questioning of Stuart Levine this afternoon.
Today is Levine's seventh day on the stand -- though a couple of the days have been half-days.
Attorney Joseph Duffy is expected to put on an aggressive attack of Levine.
We're back in after the lunch break and Levine explains the meaning behind the recording we heard between him and William Cellini.

Rezko trial: A Pope and a Rabbi

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In trying to convince Tom Rosenberg of Stuart Levine's clout at one point, William Cellini tells Rosenberg: "Jon refers to me as the Pope and Stuart the Rabbi."
He's talking about Jon Bauman, the executive director of the Teachers' Retirement System.
Cellini is Catholic and Levine is Jewish.


Rezko trial: 'I'll Take Them Down'

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A second phone call between Bill Cellini and Stuart Levine is played. Cellini sounds agitated as he describes his conversation with Tommy Rosenberg. Levine and Cellini had plotted to shake down Rosenberg for a campaign contribution. Levine testified they did so with the backing of Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.
When Cellini told Rosenberg he should contribute to the governor if he wanted state business, Rosenberg blew a fuse.
"I’ll take them down," Cellini said Rosenberg told him. Rosenberg was talking about Kelly and Rezko.
"They’re known by the G as to what they’re doing. They’ve got 48 hours, if they’re going to do this to me and think they’re going to blackmail me -- I’m going to take them down," Cellini said Rosenberg told him.

Rezko trial: Cellini on the line

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The jury hears a fairly lengthy tape of GOP insider William Cellini and Stuart Levine talking.
The two talk about Tom Rosenberg, who wanted business with the state board. Rosenberg allegedly went to Cellini for help when Rosenberg's deal with a state board stalled.

Cellini tells Levine he told Rosenberg he might have to deal with Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.

Rosenberg allegedly predicted to Cellini that two people are "being monitored every step of the way -- that’s two people, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly,” Cellini said Rosenberg told him.
“Now that scares the s- out of me.” Cellini told Levine.

'No Way Around Clout'

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Read today's story: No Way Around Clout

Rezko trial: Levine shows some ugly colors

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Stuart Levine reveals yet another level of personal corruption.
Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked Levine to explain something that came up in a phone call played in court with his friend Robert Weinstein. It had to do with a 270-apartment complex run by a South Florida charity. Levine explains that he and Weinstein owned the property. And senior citizens live in the housing pay rent to another enterprise -- also owned by Levine and Weinstein.
If ever there were a shortfall of rent that would be OK.
Levine and Weinstein took any rent shortfall from another charity -- the North Shore Supporting Organization. Guess who runs NSO?

Rezko trial: Levine Day 7

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Stuart Levine takes the stand again this morning describing yet another telephone call. Jurors heard the lengthy call yesterday between Levine and his longtime friend Robert Weinstein. The two laugh and joke about Levine's efforts to shake people down, his behind-the-scenes control and influence in the public system. Weinstein funneled money for Levine. Levine talks about his control over Jacob Kiferbaum, who owned a construction company and agreed to pay Levine kickbacks for his help securing contracts.

At one point, Weinstein warned Levine not to stay involved in his conduct for too long: “you stay on the stage too long, you get singed.”

Levine also continued his testimony about Tom Rosenberg, whom Levine wanted to shake down for a kickback or a contribution to Gov. Blagojevich, according to charges.

Rezko trial: Vrdolyak comes up again

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Much of the afternoon was spent listening to more tapes of Stuart Levine.
In many of the overheard conversations, Levine continues to talk about the kind of power he wields behind the scenes when it comes to investing billions of dollars in state funds.
At one point, he pushes for a larger investment into a firm operated by William Cellini. He did it, he said, because he wanted a business he with which he was connected to get a share of the money.
Levine again brought up Vrdolyak, saying Vrdolyak allegedly agreed to act as a "vehicle" to shepherd a finder's fee from another company, Capri capital.

Levine: Rezko could 'knock me out'

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In one recorded phone call played today, star witness Stuart Levine talks with friend Robert Weinstein about his motivation for cutting in Rezko on kickback schemes -- even if Rezko didn’t ask for it.
“He can knock me out," Levine said. But then said Rezko should appreciate Levine because: "I brought him stuff he didn’t know existed.” Levine was talking about Rezko's alleged ability to have Levine reappointed to state boards -- the same state boards where Levine pocketed money by voting for projects and not revealing his personal interest.

Levine: "I'm drooling."

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Prosecutors play a lengthy phone call between Stuart Levine and longtime business partner Robert Weinstein.
As the two scheme about a multi-million dollar deal, Weinstein warns him:
“Don’t salivate,”
“I’m drooling,” Levine said, later explaining: "I was facetious in saying it would be an opportunity to make a lot of money."
Levine also revealed he received a presidential appointment to the U.S. Holocaust Museum board.

Rezko trial: Obama's former boss comes up

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Chief witness Stuart Levine talks about Allison Davis, a business partner of Mayor Daley’s nephew Robert Vanecko, and a founding member of the law firm Davis, Miner, Barnhill, which hired Barack Obama in 1993. Davis left the firm in 1996 to become a developer, and did several projects with Tony Rezko.

Levine testifies that Davis approached Rezko about helping Davis' friend Tom Rosenberg get a deal through a state board. Levine says that Davis talks to Rezko about raising money for Blagojevich.
Rezko allegedly told Davis he was interested but he should call Levine about it.

Levine said when Rezko first brought up Davis, Levine didn't know his name. Rezko described "the individual as an African American but whose skin was white."

Obama's name did not come up.

Rezko trial: Scheme with a Hollywood Producer

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Another series of phone calls are played this afternoon.
But one new revelation, Stuart Levine said that a Hollywood Producer (of Million Dollar Baby) forgave a debt in exchange for Levine's help in getting a $220 million investment for his company, Capri Capital.
Levine said after he was able to push through the investment with Teachers' Retirement System (Levine sat on the board), Rosenberg told him to forget about a lobbying fee.
"I was at the time paying Mr. Rosenberg $50,000 to lobby on CompDent’s behalf," Levine said. Levine had hired Rosenberg to represent CompDent, a company Levine had an interest in.
"Mr. Rosenberg ultimately agreed I no longer had to pay him that money."
Levine is accused of shaking down Rosenberg.

Rezko trial: Levine on the line

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We hear a series of calls telephone calls today involving Stuart Levine and businessman Joseph Cari. On the calls, Levine sounds increasingly desperate in his efforts to push through an investment deal for JER Partners. The firm was to receive a huge investment and Levine schemed to take a cut of the finder’s fee -- even though he sat on the board approving the deal. He says Rezko was to receive a portion of the fee as well.

Judge St. Eve also rules against the prosecution in its efforts to play a lengthy tape involving a conversation between William Cellini and Stuart Levine. The defense had said the recording was unfair and had little to do with Rezko.

We hear another secretly recorded phone call first thing this morning. It's between chief witness Stuart Levine and his longtime business partner Bob Weinstein. The call comes in April 2004, just after Levine testified Monday he took Rezko to the Standard Club downtown and told him they both could make big money. Levine told Rezko that Rezko could walk away with $3.9 million.
Levine tells Weinstein of his meeting with Rezko and says a plan to take kickbacks from finder's fees involving a state pension funds will go through:
“Because Tony’s fine with all of it.”
Levine told Weinstein: "He said, 'well what do you need to proceed?' I said, your permission."

Rezko trial: Levine back on the stand

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Levine is expected to continue testimony on direct this morning.

A recap of some of his unlikely testimony:

Read today's story: Levine testifies about drug use, Standard Club


Natasha Korecki

Natasha Korecki is the Federal Courts Reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, covering federal news, corruption investigations and trials.

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