May 2008 Archives

Rezko's gambling previously unknown

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The revelation that Tony Rezko was a high-roller in Las Vegas casinos was not widely known in Illinois -- before Thursday, that is. Authorities there announced they had a warrant for Rezko's arrest for allegedly skipping out on $450,000 in debt.

Two casinos -- Bally's and Caesar's Palace -- knew him well enough that they allowed him to write checks for tens of thousands of dollars. Sources say Rezko took trips to Vegas with businessmen, politicians and fellow Gov. Blagojevich fund-raiser Chris Kelly.

Read today's story: Rezko wanted in Vegas

They're gone! Back Monday

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Sorry about the delay!

Anticipation is killing us

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Will the jury deliver its verdict before the long weekend? Or are they still far from reaching consensus?

There's a heightened air of tension here in the federal building as we await the news.
We reporters have much to do this Thursday afternoon but find ourselves obsessively staring at the clock, wondering if jurors will come back before their 4:30 p.m. slotted departure time.

They're not meeting tomorrow, so if they're going to do it this week, this is the time.

Here's more specifics on the charges he faces in Vegas ...

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

With the jury still out deliberating corruption charges against him in Chicago, Tony Rezko is facing fresh criminal charges in Las Vegas for allegedly failing to pay $450,000 in gambling debts.
Rezko faces two counts of drawing or passing a check with insufficient funds, Clark County District Attorney David Roger said.
“We have notified the marshals we have a warrant for his arrest,” Roger said. “They will execute the warrant at the appropriate time.”
In all liklihood, if Rezko is convicted and detained, authorities in Las Vegas will put a detainer on him so he later transferred to Nevada. If he is acquitted in the Chicago case, he will face extradition for the Nevada charges.
According to his warrant, Rezko owes $450,000 in gambling debts to Caesars Palace and Bally’s Hotel Casino that he allegedly racked up between March and July of 2006. Rezko’s allegedly tried to back up his gambling with markers on his account, but it had insufficient funds, Roger said. Insufficient funds in varying amounts, from $15,000 to $120,000 were drawn against his account at Broadway Bank, according to Rezko’s warrant.
Rezko owed a total of more than $800,000, but Bellagio LLC obtained a judgment of default against Rezko in 2007 for not repaying $331,000 in gambling markers, court records show.
Sources say federal authorities in Chicago were notified of the new warrant earlier this week.
U.S. Attorney spokesman Randall Samborn would not comment and neither would Rezko’s attroneys.
It appeared lawyers in Rezko’s Chicago case met in the judge’s chambers this morning. Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy left without comment.
Rezko, 52, of Wilmette, a fund-raiser to both Gov. Blagojevich and Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, is accused of scheming with Stuart Levine to take kickbacks from firms seeking state business.

Feds made aware of new Rezko warrant

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

With the jury still out deliberating corruption charges in Chicago, Tony Rezko is facing arrest in Las Vegas for allegedly failing to pay old gambling debts.
Las Vegas authorities made federal law enforcement in Chicago aware of an impending warrant tied to gambling debts, earlier this week, sources told the Sun-Times.
The Las Vegas Sun reports that Rezko owes $472,275 in gambling debts to Caesars Palace and Bally’s and related processing fees to the Clark County district attorney’s office. Rezko owed a total of more than $800,000, but Bellagio LLC obtained a judgment of default against Rezko in 2007 for not repaying $331,000 in gambling markers, court records show.
It appeared that Rezko's lawyer was in the courthouse this morning, but left without comment.
U.S. Attorney spokesman Randall Samborn would not comment.

Rezko facing new arrest?

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The Las Vegas Sun reports today that Tony Rezko faces an arrest in Las Vegas for failure to pay gambling debts.

Jury done for the day

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Jurors have gone home. Back at 9:15 a.m.

Judge won't release blank verdict form -- yet

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For those who have asked: Judge Amy St. Eve will not release a blank copy of the verdict form jurors are looking at in their deliberations.

On verdict day, her chambers reports, the forms will be available online and in the courtroom -- without coffee stains.

Verdict form -- covered in spilled coffee

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The subject of the jury note: spilled coffee on a verdict form.
"Can I get a new verdict form, today spilled coffee on the old one," the note from the foreperson read.
Does this mean they're filling it out? Or are they arm wrestling over count 16?

We were given no clues.

Well, except one, the second part of their note indicated the panel would leave at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow instead of 5:50 p.m. as jurors previously said.

So sounds like they still have work to do.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner said individually "each request has been reasonable." But he said at some point if the jury continues asking for early departures, the court might need to address it.

"I think we should keep in mind they heard testimony for eight or nine weeks," Judge Amy St. Eve said.

Everyone noted that 4:30 p.m. is the usual breaking time.

Post Script: The jury has already announced it will not meet this Friday because one of the jurors has a day care issue.

Another jury note

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Judge Amy St. Eve's chambers just informed us the judge will be addressing a note from jurors at 2 p.m. today.

Free defense for the next indicted gov?

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In a news conference today to announce he was seeking a commutation for former Gov. George Ryan, I asked former Gov. James Thompson if another governor were indicted in Illinois whether Winston & Strawn will again provide free defense services.
Thompson dodged.
"OoooK, I think we’ve gone beyond the reach of this press conference," Thompson replied.

Rezko trial: Jury's schedule

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Though it seems as if the jury has been out for awhile in the Tony Rezko trial, jurors really haven't had that much time together in the deliberation room.

Today is the eighth separate calendar day jurors have met. But not counting today's half day, they've deliberated just shy of five full days.

Here's the breakdown:
On the first day, May 13, they just chose a foreperson and left.
On two separate occasions, they cut talks short, at noon or 1 p.m.
On May 22, they concluded at 4 p.m. -- 30 minutes shy of the usual breaking time.
Today, they will talk 9:15-noon.
So before today, they've deliberated for four full days and two half days.

Looks like the jury is intent on wrapping this up by week's end.

Judge Amy St. Eve just read a note that was left May 21st from the jury.

In it, jurors asked to leave at noon today to accommodate a job interview for one of the jurors.
But they indicated they will stay an hour and a half later Wednesday and Thursday to: "help conclude our decision." They will stay until 5:50 p.m. the next two days, the timing was set to help jurors make the train.

Some reporters were unimpressed by the note, one television reporter hurried out of the courtroom bench saying :"Excuse me. I gotta go blow this out of proportion."
Another TV reporter joked: "I took a shower for this?"

Though defense lawyers already knew the content of the note (it was read in a conference call to the parties six days ago) Tony Rezko appeared in court with his lawyers. He was dressed in a suit and uttered a soft "good morning," as he stood in the hallway with his lawyers.

Jury Note

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After a four-day weekend, the court announced this morning that Judge Amy St. Eve will address a note from the jury at 9:30 a.m.

Updates to come.

Jury gone until Tuesday

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Jurors have left for a long Memorial Day weekend.


If you're interested in other corruption news, read about 15 people arrested on bribery charges tied to the city's building department. Read: New round of corruption charges hit city

Yes, jury is back

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They've came in this morning at 9:15 a.m. and are supposed to deliberate until 4 p.m.

Jury adjourned for the day

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Jurors in the Tony Rezko trial have left for the day. They left early due to a family situation related to one juror. They will return 9:15 a.m. Wednesday.

Jury leaving early today

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Jurors sent a note to Judge Amy St. Eve this morning indicating they will leave at noon today due to a family emergency.

The court hearing this morning also disclosed the jury yesterday requested a day off May 30 -- next Friday -- if they are still deliberating.

The jury already has a scheduled day off this Friday.

Jury's gone

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The jurors in Tony Rezko's trial adjourned for the day. They're back in 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.

A different take on Stuart Levine

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Given the extensive testimony by Stuart Levine in the Tony Rezko trial, I thought readers might be amused by this 2004 resolution passed by the Teachers' Retirement Systems Board. Levine once sat on the board -- the same board Levine himself said he used to cut millions of dollars in illicit, backroom deals. Levine resigned from the board after a visit by the FBI in the spring of 2004.
The board unwittingly gave him quite a nice send-off -- it happened before Levine was exposed as a schemer who was out to pocket bribes tied to deals he oversaw as a board member.

-- A post script: It has been pointed out that I should note: it was the board's practice to issue these resolutions every time a member left the board. Obviously, the board didn't know about Levine's crimes at the time it issued this.

AUGUST 10, 2004

On a motion by James Bruner, seconded by Phillip Schmidt, it was resolved:


WHEREAS, Stuart P. Levine served as a trustee of the Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois from September 2000 until July 2004; and

WHEREAS, Stuart distinguished himself by his grace, self-deprecating humor, reasoned opinions, and civil debate; and

WHEREAS, he is a devoted husband and father, who helped his son Bennett and daughter Kate with homework assignments and teenage challenges by phone even while attending out-of-town TRS Board meetings; and

WHEREAS, Stuart is known for his sharing of time, talent, and, treasure through philanthropic endeavors that have earned him international recognition; and

WHEREAS, Stuart demonstrated a deep and personal respect for the teaching profession, having worked as a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools while attending law school; and

WHEREAS, he was a founder of HMO America, a firm that grew to become the largest health maintenance organization in Illinois; and

WHEREAS, his service as a member of the Board and as chairman of the Rules and Personnel Committee is valued and deeply appreciated; therefore, be it

RESOLVED by the Board of Trustees of the Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois that we extend our best wishes and appreciation to our friend and colleague and offer our sincere appreciation for his service as a member of this board. Given this 10th day of August 2004.

The motion passed by a unanimous voice vote.

The Piggy Bank

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After a weekend break, Tony Rezko jurors are spending their third day behind doors deliberating.

In the meantime, there's news concerning a co-schemer whose name repeatedly surfaced at Rezko's trial -- William Cellini.

Cellini, whose firm Commonwealth manages $1 billion in assets with the state, hasn't been charged with wrongdoing. But he's under scrutiny by State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Giannoulias accused Cellini and his partners of diverting as much as $2 million from the Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Conference Center in Springfield after he won a sweet-heart state loan to fund the hotel.
Time and again during the two-month, Cellini's voice was heard on tape working out deals with prosecution witness Stuart Levine.

Jury done for the day

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Tony Rezko's jurors have left for the day.

They're expected to return Monday.

Blago memo: Turn over Rezko evidence

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The Bloomington Pantagraph reports that one month before Tony Rezko's trial started a note went out to senior aides in Gov. Blagojevich's administration telling them to preserve evidence tied to certain people. They include Chris Kelly, William Cellini, Robert Kjellander, David Wilhelm and Rezko, among others.
The Pantagraph quotes an office memo sent out to senior aides to Gov. Blagojevich as stating:
“If you find any documents or information relating to these individuals, you must notify the Office of the General Counsel in accordance with the directions set out below,” wrote William Quinlan, the governor’s senior legal adviser.

The law the jury must follow

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No, jurors in the Tony Rezko trial couldn't bring back transcripts with them into the jury room.

But besides their notes and "collective recollection" jurors have a specific set of guidelines the judge ordered them to follow.

Here they are: jury instructions

Rezko trial: Jurors have case, day two

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Jurors are all back this morning to continue deliberations.

They're expected to work until 1 p.m.

Jury done for the day

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The jurors in Tony Rezko's trial have gone home for the day, following their full first day of deliberations.

They return tomorrow for a half-day of closed-door talks.

Rezko trial: First jury question

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The 12 jurors in Tony Rezko's trial just sent a note to Judge Amy St. Eve asking if she could give them a transcript of testimony from witness Michael Winter. Winter's testimony is relevant to the first count in the indictment -- though it is a lengthy count involving a complex scheme.

Rezko trial: Finally, the real indictment

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After two years, the real Tony Rezko indictment -- without all the cloak and dagger of "Individual I" or "Firm A" references -- is made public.

In a pretty unusual move, prosecutors kept secret the individuals represented in the indictment right up through Rezko's corruption trial.

All of the allegations came out in court, so this isn't anything new. But this is the first time prosecutors put it in black and white for all the public to see. The Sun-Times before the trial did its own ABCs of the government proffer, because that too was written in code.

Here's the real indictment:
Rezko indictment

Rezko trial: Jury's deliberating

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The jury is all here this morning to start its first full day of deliberations.

Rezko calling

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Tony Rezko was smart enough not to do business on the phone, several people testified at his trial.
Still, prosecutors found some interesting connections after examining his phone records.

Who called Rezko the most? Who did Rezko call most often? Read more in today's Watchdogs

Rezko trial: Feds hit back

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner hit Tony Rezko hard in the closing moments of Rezko's corruption trial, telling jurors Rezko was part of a "corrupt ring of insiders."
Read today's summary: Feds hit back as case goes to jury

There's no trial today because a juror had a previous conflict. Tomorrow, jurors meet for their first full day of deliberations.

Female-dominated, racially diverse jury

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The 12 jurors making up the permanent panel to deliberate in Tony Rezko's trial include 10 women and just two men. There's also six whites and six blacks on the jury.

Three men were dismissed today, including two city workers and one state worker.


After sitting in trial for nearly 40 days, four jurors were told they would not be able to deliberate.
The three men and one woman were "randomly" chosen as alternates, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve told them and today went home instead of back to the deliberation room with the 12 chosen jurors.
One of the men, who in jury selection said he worked for the Illinois Department of Transportation, looked flushed and shook his head as St. Eve said she knew they were disappointed.

One of the four dismissed was a man I've previously written about who consistently nodded off, including during closing arguments and jury instructions.

Rezko trial: Jury's gone, returns Thursday

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The 12 final jurors today chose a foreperson and went home for the day.

Wednesday is an already scheduled day off, so they return Thursday for their first full day of deliberation.

Jurors told the judge in a note today that they will keep their regular schedule of 9:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and every other Friday to 1 p.m.


Prosecution fires back

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The prosecution’s rebuttal just wrapped up, with Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner telling jurors that Rezko’s defense lawyer, Joseph Duffy, tried to divert their attention by focusing to heavily on star prosecution witness Stuart Levine.

“No matter how much Mr. Duffy wants to make this trial about the secret life of Stuart Levine, that’s not what this trial is about,” he said. “There’s somebody else who’s being exposed – it’s the defendant [Rezko’s] secret life.”

Duffy's Done

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Joseph Duffy, Tony Rezko's defense lawyer, wrapped up his closing argument by again focusing on star prosecution witness Stuart Levine.

"It is OK for the government to be lied to, fooled and conned" by Levine, Duffy said. "But if I suggest to you that Mr. Rezko was the victim of the same, I’ll be chastised.

More Joe Duffy one-liners

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Tony Rezko's defense attorney, Joseph Duffy, is continuing his closing argument this morning. He keeps hammering away at star prosecution witness Stuart P. Levine with colorful statements about Levine's admitted drug use and criminal past:

Rezko trial: Tony on tape

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U.S. Prosecutor Reid Schar highlighted more than a dozen audio recordings where Tony Rezko is referenced or in a rare instance, actually talking himself.

Here's what a government wire tap caught Stuart Levine and others saying on the phone. They did not know they were being recorded.

•On 4/17/04 Levine says Rezko told him:
“It’s like, find us whatever you can...just do it, make it happen Stuart.”
•On 4/17/04 Levine says Rezko told him:
“What do you need to proceed?”
Levine says he answered: “Your permission.”
•On 4/18/04 Levine tells construction company owner Jacob Kiferbaum
“(Rezko) wants us to take whatever we can.”
•On 4/21/04 Levine tells Kiferbaum
“He’s got the power boy.”
•On 4/21/04 Levine tells his friend Bob Weinstein:
“(Rezko) wants to make as much money as he can, while he can.”
•On 5/18/04 Rezko tells Levine:
“Tom will carry the ball and nobody will know.”

Levine's $1.3 million in cash and 806 calls

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Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy repeatedly called prosecution witness Stuart Levine a liar, saying he caught Levine in lies right on the stand.
"He lies so much, I don't think he knows when he's lying," Duffy said. "It's that bad."
Levine admitted to 30 years of drug use, including some heavy-duty drugs, such as Crystal Meth, Special K and cocaine.

Rezko trial: Enough to wake a sleeping juror

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There's good news and bad news for Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy.

Good news: He struck a chord with at least one juror. The male who couldn't keep his eyes open all morning and afternoon was open-eyed and alert when Duffy started his closing remarks at about 3:30 p.m. He even smiled wide a couple of times at Duffy's jokes and seemed to pay close attention to exhibits Duffy put up on the screen.

Bad news: The juror next to him nodded off.

Rezko trial: Another Obama mention

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Defense lawyer Joseph Duffy is pulling out all the stops in trying to diffuse the government’s case against Tony Rezko.

- Duffy told jurors that Rezko probably did more fund-raising for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), President Bush and St. Jude’s children’s hospital in 2003 than he did for Gov. Blagojevich. That includes “a Barack Obama fund-raiser or two.” This isn’t the first time Duffy trotted out Obama’s name during the trial. He did the same thing during opening statements.

- Duffy took aim at former Illinois Finance Authority Executive Director Ali Ata, saying Ata over-hyped his relationship with Rezko and under-hyped it with the Blagojevich and Mell families. Ata didn’t need Rezko to get a state job, Duffy said, because he was so close to the governor and Patti Blagojevich’s father, Ald. Dick Mell (33rd). “[Ata] could have gone and rang the doorbell at the governor’s house and probably gotten a hug from Patti,” Duffy said.

-Duffy on Blagojevich campaign contributions made by people who were appointed to posts on state boards and commissions: “They [prosecutors] want you to believe that people gave campaign contributions to get on boards that didn’t pay any money.”

-Duffy rebutting phone charts the government presented as evidence: “Mr. Rezko’s so-called political influence has been grossly, grossly overstated. How many phone calls did we have between Mr. Rezko and the governor? Remember that chart? It doesn’t exist.”

-- By Chris Fusco

Tony Rezko's defense lawyer, Joseph Duffy, began his closing argument around 3:30 p.m. An animated, dramatic Duffy says he's trying to appeal to jurors' "common sense" and is pinning the crimes Rezko is accused of committing on the prosecution's star witness: Stuart P. Levine.

Reid Schar's list

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar is wrapping up his closing argument against Tony Rezko. "Did the defendant knowingly join this fraud scheme?" Schar asked jurors. "He both joined it and participated in it."

Sleeping juror

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The groggy male juror in the back row who has consistently been caught sleeping throughout the trial, has perhaps broken his own record today for nodding off.

This isn't a scientific study, but today, while I've watched him, his eyes have been closed as often as they've been open.

Will he survive the final jury cut? Should he?


For the prosecution: Reid Schar

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Here's a little background on the prosecutor who is giving today's closing in the Tony Rezko trial.

(from an earlier posting in the trial).
Reid Schar, 35, is deputy chief of public corruption in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Schar joined Hamilton in the Muhammad Salah Hamas fund-raising trial. Other prosecutions include a Chinatown extortion, a major gang case from Chicago Heights and Oak Forest corruption. Schar is a Stanford Undergraduate and Northwestern Law School graduate. He clerked for U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo. He worked at Sidley & Austin at the same time as Niewoehner. Schar has also served as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern Law since 2002.

To close or not to close?

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The trial broke for lunch around noon, and the prosecution's closing argument will resume at 1:30 p.m. Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar expects the rest of his closing argument will last no more than 90 minutes once things resume.

Downplaying Levine

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It took a half hour or so before Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid J. Schar began referencing star prosecution witness Stuart Levine in his closing argument.

The government’s closing argument in Tony Rezko’s corruption trial kicked off at 9:04 a.m. and is expected to take between three and four hours. Rezko’s defense attorney, Joseph Duffy, will decide after that whether he wants to begin his closing argument today or wait until tomorrow.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid J. Schar has begun recounting the government’s case. Key words he keeps repeating at the beginning are “time and time again.”

“Time and time again the evidence demonstrates the defendant was not about good government,” Schar says. “His corrupt actions benefited himself and his friends over the interests of the people.”

Rezko trial: Tension building

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The line this morning to get into Tony Rezko's trial is halfway down the hallway.

Rezko entered the building early today, and waits inside a witness and attorney room off the hallway on the 12th floor. Today, he wears a navy blue suit and a striped tie.

In line is apparently family members (possibly a brother and parents?) of Prosecutor Reid Schar, who will be delivering this morning's summation. As Schar walks toward the courtroom, he pauses and gives them a nod to get out of line. They follow him in before the rest of the crowd.

Rezko trial: A Rezko review

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Why is Tony Rezko on trial? What were some of the key moments over two months of testimony?
How does this all culminate in today's closing arguments?

Read today's story "Rezko Recap," for a reminder of some of the major events that played out in court.

Fat tax break for felon

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Stuart Levine, the star witness in the Tony Rezko trial, won hundreds of thousands
of dollars in tax breaks on his Highland Park Home.

Read today's "Watchdogs" By Chris Fusco: Tax break for Levine


While meeting with lawyers in a jury instruction conference this afternoon, Judge Amy St. Eve
said it wasn't a certainty that witnesses who pleaded guilty will receive shorter prison time.
"There's no guarantee any of them will get reduced sentences," St. Eve said.

Rezko trial: Obama escapes unscathed

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rezobama

The Tony Rezko trial had potential to tarnish the name of Presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

But Obama turned out to be merely a blip in the trial, despite his longtime ties to Rezko.

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown explores the issue in his column today.

Read: 'Rezko trial hasn't harmed Obama -- yet'

No Tony Rezko activity today. Lawyers on both sides are preparing for their closing arguments and for Wednesday's hearing to discuss jury instructions.

Here's today's story: Defense calls no witnesses

Defense: Prosecution didn't prove case

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When asked after court today why no witnesses were brought to the stand to testify in Rezko's defense, Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy said it had to do with a deficient government case.

"We do not believe the government has met their burden in proving its charges against Mr. Rezko," Duffy said. "Plain and simple."

Closing arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. May 12 -- next Monday.

For the prosecution: It appears Prosecutor Reid Schar will give the summary and Chris Niewoehner will give the rebuttal.

For the defense: Joseph Duffy will give the defense closing argument. Duffy and Niehwoehner will try to wrap it up Tuesday because the jury has a previously scheduled day off Wednesday, May 14.

The jury will likely return Thursday of next week to begin their deliberations.

Rezko trial: Last moments are light and loose

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Everyone in the courtroom knows the trial is about to come to a close. We're just waiting for the jury to come in so they can hear the news.

As we wait, a loose, "it's finally over," feeling falls over the courtroom.

Rezko lawyer Joe Duffy and an IRS agent are chatting in the back of the courtroom about restaurant recommendations.

Prosecutors Reid Schar and Carrie Hamilton both laugh loudly -- something about rubber bands, but it's tough to hear. Schar, his face red, swivels in his chair, toward, and then away from Tony Rezko. Hamilton, standing a few feet away from Schar, looks on laughing loudly too. Rezko, wearing a light grey suit and a yellow tie, smiles wide and chuckles. He looks at the prosecutors and snaps a rubber band around his notebook and keeps laughing.

It's a light ending to this two-month trial.

Having sat through the marathon trial of former Gov. George Ryan, I can tell you, this kind of congeniality between the prosecution and defense never happened.

Rezko trial: Defense won't call witnesses

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Moments after the prosecution rested, Tony Rezko waived his right to testify.

Then Rezko's lawyers disclosed they've taken on a strategy of putting up no separate defense case, indicating they won't call any of their own witnesses.
The move isn't a complete surprise.
Last week, Rezko's lawyers hinted their defense case, if any, would be short -- possibly wrapping up in an afternoon. Defense lawyers often say the bulk of their defense comes out through cross examination.

The defense filed three motions to throw out particular charges against Rezko -- including a motion saying the government hasn't proven its case.

Judge Amy St. Eve, who said she would take the motions under advisement, told jurors that lawyers will "finish the evidentiary portion of the case when you come back at 12:15." She then told them they will have a week off, to return Monday for closing arguments.

The jury will return as the defense enters documents into evidence.
Will it offer any interesting written, stipulated testimony? We'll see in a few minutes.

Rezko trial: Prosecution rests

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In its ninth week of trial, the prosecution just rested its case against Tony Rezko.

The court just took another break where defense motions will be discussed.

Witness: I wore a wire after I was threatened

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Ali Ata, the prosecution's closer witness, testified moments ago he came to the government to cooperate this spring because he was threatened.

Ata said he wore a recording device and recorded conversation for the government on a separate case:
“Yes, for one person who delivered a threat to me,” Ata said.
Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton asked Ata if it were fair to say he didn't suddenly plead guilty last week so he could rush onto the stand in the Rezko corruption trial.
"You were not coming in to cooperate when you cooperated so you could testify at this trial?" Hamilton asked
"Correct," Ata said.

The closing week of the prosecution’s case was pivotal in bolstering its contention that Blagojevich fund-raiser Tony Rezko pulled the strings in state government. At the same time, witnesses painted a picture of a Rezko who needed money and made demands for campaign cash. That gives motive to prosecution’s contentions that Rezko pocketed kickbacks from firms seeking state contracts.

Prosecution to rest today: Prosecutors say they will rest their case after calling one more witness after Ali Ata.

Defense not far behind: Rezko lawyers say their case will be brief -- possibly beginning and ending today or Tuesday.

Read on for highlights of witness testimony last week.

Rezko trial: Man on the run

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atarun

Witness Ali Ata (above, running from photographers) was the last-minute addition to the Tony Rezko trial, but his testimony may prove to be the most significant in bolstering the government's case.

Ata testified he gave Rezko more than $100,000 in cash bribes, that he got his state post after holding fund-raisers for Gov. Blagojevich and that Rezko helped Ata secure a state lease after Ata made Rezko a partner in the land deal.

He continues his testimony on cross examination Monday.

Read today's story: Ata took state job for 'redemption'

Trial could wrap up earlier than planned

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Tony Rezko's lawyers originally said they would take weeks to present their defense case. Then they said it could take days.

Today, his lawyers said the whole thing could be done in an afternoon, or possibly a day and a half.

The prosecution said they will likely rest Monday. Rezko lawyer William Ziegelmueller said the defense could be done by late Monday, maybe Tuesday.

It is typical for a defense not to put on much of case, saying most of the work is done through cross examination.

Defense: Was Rezko really that powerful?

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Defense lawyer Joseph Duffy works to downplay witness Ali Ata's contention that Rezko held vast influence in the Blagojevich administration.

Duffy asked about Ata's contention that Rezko told him not to worry about talking to the feds because Rezko was working with his friend Bob Kjellander to change the U.S. Attorney.

Duffy asked Ata if he thought Rezko had influence over the President of the United States, the person who appoints the U.S. Attorney.

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An intense exchange just moments ago as Tony Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy asks major witness Ali Ata (above, right) about Sept. 11, 2001.

After the terrorist attacks, FBI agents visited Ata at his then employer, Nalco Company, and interviewed him. Ata's last name was similar to the most notorious of the Sept. 11 high-jackers, Mohamed Atta.

"And you had nothing to do with that," Duffy asked.
Ata's face changed. “Come on, Mr. Duffy, let’s not go there,” Ata said, looking down.
Duffy said he wasn't going there and quickly got to his point -- that Nalco, a water and chemical treatment plant, gave him a retirement package right after the attacks.
Ata left his job, which he said was devastating to himself and his family, Ata said.
Ata, who had a net worth of $12 million in2004, wanted a state position to help rebuild himself.
"I felt I needed to maybe prove myself again through a position,” Ata said.

Rezko trial: 'He was being watched'

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Witness Ali Ata said Tony Rezko warned Ata in the time preceding his indictment that the feds were watching.

Ata said Rezko told him: “We should be careful speaking on the phone, he was being watched,” Ata said.
Ata said Rezko told him he had a company sweep for bugs and Ata saw there were little electronic boxes that were bug detectors in Rezko's office.
And, in the middle of 2005, while sitting in Ata's car, Rezko allegedly asked Ata if he had been approached by the FBI. "He mouthed the FBI," Ata said.

Rezko trial: Rezko owes me $2 million

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Witness Ali Ata testified he felt he had to pay Tony Rezko $125,000 in cash payments because he had other deals with Rezko.

"I had several other deals with Mr. Rezko and I figured at some point we would settle," Ata testified.
They included a $1 million in Roosevelt and Clark and a $1 million investment for a condo project at Irving Park Road.

"How much do you believe he owes you for those investments?" Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton asked. "$2 million," Ata said.

Witness: Rezko shook me down for cash

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Witness Ali Ata testified that Tony Rezko asked him for cash four different times for a total of $125,000.
Ata went to his brother-in-law's company, Jenin Distribution, and removed huge sums of cash from the safe. On the first occasion, Rezko told him he needed $25,000 for Gov. Blagojevich's home. Contractors were going to slap a lien on the home if the money didn't come through, Ata said.

Another request for money came in the fall of 2004.
"He needed $100,000 ... he was being pushed, he had a lot of obligations and he needed $100,000 in cash," Ata said Rezko told him. Ata had half of that.
Rezko allegedly showed up at Ata's Lemont home and told him to get in the car. With $50,000 in a bag in the car, the two drove to the house of Blagojevich fund-raiser Chris Kelly.

Mr. Ata justta wrote me a letter

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Tony Rezko was a fund-raiser and adviser to Gov. Blagojevich.

But while in his state job, Ali Ata said he was directed to report to Rezko on his duties within his post.
At one point, Rezko asked Ata to use his official position with the Illinois Finance Authority to sign a letter that would help Rezko's pizza businesses and a loan Rezko was seeking, Ata alleged on the stand.

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In the months before Ali Ata was appointed to a state post, Tony Rezko hit him up for a $50,000 campaign contribution for Blagojevich. " I said: 'No, I can only give $25,000.' ”
That was on top of previous contributions totaling $60,000.

Later, Ata spoke with the governor at a summer fund-raiser at Navy Pier.
“Mr. Blagojevich thanked me for my continuing support. He indicated he was aware of myself making another contribution and said he understood I was considering a position with the new administration. (He) said that it better be a job where I could make some money.”
Ata later told Rezko of the conversation with Blagojevich.
"I said I was surprised that the governor would make such a statement," Ata said. "Mr. Rezko said he wasn’t surprised."

Recall amendement killed in Senate

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This obviously isn't going on in the Tony Rezko trial, but the state Senate just killed a measure that would allow for voters to recall public officials -- namely, the governor.

The legislation was proposed in response to the federal investigation into activities in Blagojevich's administration -- including the indictment of his top adviser and fund-raiser Tony Rezko.

Read the recall story: State senate votes to kill recall amendment

Defense wants to bar "bags of cash" evidence

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Tony Rezko defense lawyer Joseph Duffy said the government shouldn't be allowed to talk with witness Ali Ata about giving "bags of cash" to Tony Rezko. If that testimony comes in, it will be the most explosive allegation yet tying Rezko to cash payoffs. But Ata just pleaded guilty last week and the defense knew of his cooperation not long before that, giving Rezko's lawyers little time to prepare.

"This delay is so great that cross examination does not cure the problem," Duffy said.

Visit from feds drove Ata to state job

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An aside from Ali Ata's testimony.

Ata, former Executive Director of the Illinois Finance Authority, testified he worked for Nalco for years earning five U.S. Patents. That is, until 2001, when he took an early retirement.
"Within days of 9/11, I was visited at work by FBI agents," Ata said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Ata, a Jordanian national, came to the country in 1970, "seeking education," he said. Two weeks after the FBI visit, Ata said his employer urged him to take a retirement package with the company.

"Did the events have an effect on you?" Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton asked.
“Yes, they were devastating to myself and my family,” Ata said, pressing his lips hard.

Rezko trial: Ata takes the stand

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The last significant witness in the Tony Rezko trial took the stand moments ago.

Ali Ata, a former Blagojevich administration official, got right into his explosive testimony, saying that he passed a $25,000 check to the governor in Tony Rezko's office.

Witness: Rezko's checks bounced

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Tony Rezko's 10-year friend, Semir Sirazi, said two checks from Rezko in 2003 -- for $48,000 and $66,000 -- bounced. Sirazi provided consulting services for Rezko's Rezmar companies.

Rezko issued another $48,000 check, which cleared.
When the other check bounced, Sirazi said he met Rezko at the Wilmette Walker Bros. Pancake House to talk about it. Rezko gave him a signed, blank check and apologized.
It bounced too.
They talked again, and Rezko said he'd wire Sirazi's company, Mardini Inc., the money.
The $66,000 wire transfer that paid off Rezko's debt did come through. But at tax time, Sirazi said he realized the wire didn't come from a Rezko company.

Rezko trial: The bungled recording

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FBI Special Agent Daniel Cain finishes a story we heard earlier in the trial about former Ald. William Singer.
Star witness and proficient cooperator Stuart Levine was asked to wear a wire on Singer and secretly record him regarding a questionable deal involving the sale of a Gold Coast property. Previously, defense lawyers elicited from Levine that he shut off the recording in early 2006. They hinted that maybe Levine turned off his recorder on purpose because he was still owed money in the deal.

Rezko trial: Why Cellini wasn't recorded

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After Stuart Levine started cooperating with federal authorities in early 2006, he attended a dinner party with William Cellini. Though Levine was secretly recording numerous individuals who were targets of the government, he wasn't asked to record Cellini.
Why?
“It was our understanding that Mr. Cellini was represented (by an attorney)," FBI Special Agent Daniel Cain testified. "It is the policy of the FBI not to record when a person is represented in the investigation."

But Levine did record others...

Rezko trial: Back today

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After a two-day break, the Tony Rezko trial started up again this morning.
What will make big news today is the testimony of Ali Ata, former official in the Blagojevich administration. Ata, expected to give explosive testimony about cash bribes to Rezko and broader allegations about pay-to-play tactics in the Blagojevich administration, will take the stand sometime after several brief witnesses.

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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