June 2008 Archives

Obama's Rezko ties kept under seal

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In January, the Sun-Times reported that a portion of the Tony Rezko case led to Barack Obama's campaign fund. Obama isn't accused of doing anything wrong. But Rezko allegedly used straw donors to kick into Obama's campaign fund during his run for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

While none of that came out at trial, today, for the first time, a filing recently unsealed shows the government's initial intent to call witnesses about that aspect of the case. The judge in the case, Amy St. Eve, ruled that the prosecution could bring up Obama's name. But they never did. And references to Obama were not only kept out of the trial during his run for the primary -- it was kept under seal. Until today.

The filing indicates that the prosecution wanted witnesses to talk about Rezko's prowess as an Obama fund-raiser and his influence in getting two others -- Joseph Aramanda and Semir Sirazi -- to donate Rezko money to Obama's campaigns in their names. The money kicked into Obama's campaigns came from an illicit kickback scheme. Obama has since donated that money to charity.

Rezko: Which version of the truth to believe?

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A new filing unsealed in the Tony Rezko case shows that the feds interviewed Gov. Blagojevich on "multiple occasions," and he denied telling two government witnesses he'd trade state work for campaign cash.

Read the Sun-Times exclusive: Rezko filing raises prospect that witnesses lied -- or governor did

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve partially released the $8.5 million in property and cash that once secured Tony Rezko's bond. She ordered that about $100,000 in cash be left behind after prosecutors sought a restraining order on the money to fulfill forfeiture they will seek in the future.

Rezko surrendered to jail upon his conviction last week, releasing liens held against 27 properties posted by friends and family members supporting the North Shore businessman. Rezko, a former fund-raiser for Gov. Blagojevich and U.S. Senator Barack Obama, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 3.

Rezko money: Feds want to put a hold on funds

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Lawyers met this morning in Tony Rezko's case, indicating they want to freeze cash Rezko put up for his bond so they can try to take it later. The feds want to put a hold on about $100,000 in cash as they move to seek forfeiture against him. That money is supposed to be returned to Rezko's lawyers after the fund-raiser turned himself in to begin serving his sentence last week.

But prosecutors say that money should be put on hold as they seek to recoup $250,000, which they say represents ill-gotten money from schemes proven up in his two-month fraud trial.

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve hasn't yet ruled on what Rezko owes in forfeiture.

Also this week, the judge returned the passport belonging to Rezko's wife, Rita. She had to surrender it when she acted as a third person custodian to her husband while he was free on bond.


In a letter to U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve just made public, Tony Rezko pleas to be let out of prison during his trial so he can see his family. He also discusses his case, saying he was pressured to give up the goods on Gov. Blagojevich and Sen. Barack Obama, but that he had nothing bad to say about them.

"I have never been party to any wrongdoing that involved the governor or the senator. I will never fabricate lies about anyone else for selfish purposes. I will take what comes my way but I will not hurt innocent people. I am not Levine, Loren, Mahru or Winter. I am simply an honest, humble immigrant who believes in the American dream," Rezko wrote as he was kept in solitary confinement in a downtown lockup earlier this year. He was speaking of numerous people who testified at his trial or talked to prosecutors.

Sources say that the feds have not approached Obama to question him regarding Rezko. Rezko was a longtime Obama supporter in Obama's early, formative years as a politician. In Rezko's criminal case, money from a kickback scheme ended up in Obama's campaign fund, though there was never an allegation Obama knew about it. Obama later gave that money to charity.
In his letter, Rezko states that he's been under pressure by federal prosecutors to give information on Obama and Blagojevich.
"They are pressuring me to tell them the 'wrong' things that I supposedly know about Gov. Blagojevich and Sen. Obama."
However, Rezko has never submitted to an interview by the feds nor has he proffered a statement to them.

The letter was a plea to St. Eve to allow him to see his family again as his trial continued. Rezko said he was stripped from his home unfairly Jan. 28 -- when he was arrested on a bond violation.
"I did not die but in some ways I feel like I died without having a chance to say goodbye."

St. Eve did release Rezko on $8.5 million bond in April. It was secured by a number of properties belonging to family and friends. However, upon his conviction, Rezko voluntarily surrendered to prison, releasing holds on all the properties. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 3.

Rezko: One trial down. Next up in 2009.

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With the ink barely dry on the verdict form in one trial, a federal judge on Monday set a trial date for Tony Rezko's next case. The trial for the onetime influential political fund-raiser is set to start Feb. 2, 2009. It involves a $10 million loan fraud scheme. Rezko allegedly asked a former state official, Ali Ata, to doctor up a letter to help secure loans for his pizza franchises, as part of the case. On Wednesday, a federal jury convicted Rezko of far-reaching fraud tied to state deals. He surrendered to jail immediately.

In limbo now is a third case against Rezko. That one, filed just two weeks ago in a Las Vegas-area county court, accuses Rezko of skipping out on $450,000 in gambling debts racked up at local casinos.

Rezko: Will he sing?

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The million dollar question following Tony Rezko's conviction is whether he will crumble under the pressure of being behind jail bars and agree to talk to the feds.

Rezko faces significant prison time stemming from his recent corruption conviction. Beyond that, he still faces two other criminal cases and his
money troubles continue to escalate

Obama: No pardon for Rezko

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Our Spingfield reporter Dave McKinney reports that Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama would not pardon Tony Rezko if elected president.

"Obama campaign spoeskman Ben LABolt said the senator would not act to wipe away Rezko's felony convictions or commute any prison time he might serve as a result of Wednesday's verdict.
Read more: No Rezko pardon

Tony Rezko: Money troubles don't end

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In bankruptcy court this morning, one of Tony Rezko's lawyers, Howard Adelman, said he would seek to dismiss claims for millions of dollars brought against Rezko by former friend Semir Sirazi.

Sirazi, who testified at Rezko's trial, said Rezko violated a consent agreement in which Rezko allegedly promised to repay millions of dollars in indebtedness. Adelman said he'd be filing papers to dismiss the case later this month.

Rezko trial: The day after

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The courtroom has quieted. The jury watch is over. Reporters, jurors, lawyers, have moved on with their lives. Tony Rezko surrendered and is behind bars. But the Rezko story hasn't died. In fact, with U.S. Sen. Barack Obama the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee just this week, expect to see Rezko in television ads and elsewhere as Obama continues his quest for the White House. And expect Rezko's conviction to continue haunting Gov. Blagojevich's administration.

Read today's story: GOP wastes no time focusing on Obama

For full coverage: www.suntimes.com

Rezko trial: Blagojevich reacts

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CHICAGO - "Tony Rezko is a friend and was a supporter. On a personal
level, I am deeply sad for what has happened to Tony. I am profoundly
sad for his children and his wife Rita. My heart goes out to all of
them. The jury's decision is yet another reminder that ours is a system
of government that is ruled by laws, and not by men. I respect the
decision made by the jury. As for me, I will continue to get up every
single day to work as hard as I possibly can for the people. Tomorrow I
will meet with the legislative leaders so that we can balance the budget
in a way that is fair and helps people. And I am working on passing a
capital bill that will stimulate our economy and create more than
500,000 jobs."

Juror statement

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Juror Susan Lopez, the Lutheran school principal who we thought was the foreperson, but wasn't, read the following statement to reporters:

"Good afternoon. We the jury on the Antoin Rezko trial have made our decisions based on the evidence that was presented to us during this lengthy trial. The task before us was a difficult and challenging one. It was with caution and great care that each juror reviewed the evidence that presented. We appreciate the professionalism of the lawyers throughout this trial. The jury asks that the media now respect our privacy and not contact us any further. Thank you."

-- Compiled by Sun-Times Reporter Frank Main

Rezko trial: Obama's reaction

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Here's a statement released by Obama's people minutes ago:

"I'm saddened by today's verdict. This isn't the Tony Rezko I knew, but now he has been convicted by a jury on multiple charges that once again shine a spotlight on the need for reform. I encourage the General Assembly to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent these kinds of abuses in the future.” – Senator Barack Obama

Rezko trial: Verdict breakdown

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Here's a breakdown of the counts and how the jury ruled:

Rezko guilty on 16 of 24 counts

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A federal jury finds Tony Rezko guilty on 16 of 24 counts.

Eight jurors spoke to the media after the verdict was in and said it was with great care and caution that they considered the testimony. One juror said the panel considered Levine's testimony with caution.
"We set aside Stuart Levine's testimony because he played with us in the courtroom."
Ultimately, they found his testimony consistent, because it was backed up by other evidence, they said.
Rezko voluntarily turned himself over and is in custody, his lawyer, Joseph Duffy said it was Rezko's decision to do that. "Mr. Rezko wants to start serving his sentence immediately," Duffy said.


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The judge will read the verdict at 3:45 p.m.

Rezko trial: What we know

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-- Two weeks ago: jurors in Tony Rezko's trial asked for a transcript of witness Michael Winter's testimony. The judge said they couldn't have it -- or anyone's transcript testimony.

-- Last week, jurors indicated in a note they would stay late on two nights to help "conclude our decision." We took that to mean a decision was imminent.
Here we are a week later.

-- This week: Jurors on Monday say they cannot agree "on one count." They're brought in at about 2:30 p.m. and told to keep deliberating. We think a decision is imminent.
Here we are Wednesday morning.

Jury's gone

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They have left for the day.

We'll move on to day 12 of deliberations tomorrow.

They should be back at 9:15 a.m.

"We cannot decide on one count."

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The note from jurors yesterday said they couldn't decide on one count.

Does that mean the Tony Rezko jury cannot decide on JUST one count?
Or does that mean the jury cannot decide on ANY one count?

These are the kinds of things reporters are mulling over as we eagerly await word from the jury today. Many reporters have set up camp in the hallway on the 12th floor, near the courtroom.
Most of us assumed it meant they were deadlocked on just one count and they'd be back in early this morning with a verdict.

But with 15 minutes before their quitting time, we haven't heard a peep.

The verdict form

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The judge released a blank copy of the verdict form yesterday.

This is what the jurors are in charge of filling out back in the jury room:
Verdict form

Jurors lunching

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Jurors took a lunch at about noon, according to court watchers sitting outside the courtroom.

Today is their 11th day of closed-door talks.
Before deliberations, the jury spent about 35 days in the actual trial. Jurors are paid $40 a day for their service. On the 31st day of service, they get a $10 raise. So this panel has been paid $50 a day for the last couple of weeks.

Rezko trial: Are we there yet?

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Jurors started their deliberations again at 9:15 a.m. this morning, after sending Judge Amy St. Eve a note yesterday saying they were deadlocked on one count.

To address questions: The judge does have the option of accepting a partial verdict on the counts, which jurors have unanimously decided. She would declare a mistrial on the remaining counts. The prosecution then would have the option to retry those counts. If it's just a few counts, the prosecution would probably decline. If it's the whole case, the prosecution would likely retry.

In the high-profile trial of Conrad Black, a case which St. Eve also oversaw, she sent a partially deadlocked jury back a couple of times to reach its decision.

They're gone for the day

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Jury has adjourned for the day -- Amy St. Eve's chambers report.
Their note was just a tease, it turns out.

Perhaps they wanted to sleep on it.
But it's pretty fair to predict it could come early tomorrow morning.

Can a tie be a sign?

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I thought it might be a sign that today, when Tony Rezko showed up in court for the jury's note, he wore the same tie he had on the very first day of his trial.

But we're quickly approaching 4:30 p.m. -- typically the jury's quitting time -- and so far, nothing.

Actually, it is the same tie Rezko is wearing in the photo to the right.

By Natasha Korecki
Federal Courts Reporter

Jurors in Tony Rezko's trial are near a decision. In a note to U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, jurors indicated "we cannot decide on one count."
St. Eve brought in the panel and gave them an instruction required by law called the Silvern instruction, which essentially says that they must go back and keep trying.
"Discuss your differences with an open mind," St. Eve said. "You are impartial judges of the facts."
The 10-woman, 2-man jury returned to their closed-door deliberations.
The note didn't specify that the jury had reached a consensus on all the other counts, but that's the assumption we've all drawn.

Jury note

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The judge has received a note from the jury.

She will address it as quickly as lawyers get to the courtroom.

Rezko trial: Will today be the day?

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After a long weekend, jurors are back in Monday morning deliberating.

Will they return a verdict today, after lunch?

Today is the 10th time the jury has met to deliberate, but their accumulated time behind closed-doors amounts to 7 1/2 days, when you combine their half-day sessions.

Speculation by reporters is that the school principal is the foreperson of the 10 woman, two man jury, and she's meticulously making the panel go through each piece of evidence. Of course, this is just speculation.

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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