Rezko rewind. Day 4
March 7, 2008; 4:38 a.m.
Tony Rezko corruption trial finally got down to the substance Thursday, with opening statements and the first witness testimony making it abundantly clear why this is likely to be an uncomfortable case for Gov. Rod Blagojevich as well as Rezko.
Prosecutors made every attempt to show that it was Rezko's relationship and influence with the governor that gave him the secret power to try to force investment firms to cough up bogus finder's fees or campaign contributions if they wanted to do business with the state.
The government's first witnesses brought the case inside the Blagojevich administration, showing that Rezko was able to attend key planning meetings with the governor and appear at job interviews for those seeking top Cabinet posts. It was his fundraising prowess that gave him such access, prosecutors contend, and showed the jury fundraising statistics that listed Rezko as Blagojevich's second biggest money collector.
Prosecutors said Rezko stole from the hard-earned pension funds of thousands of Illinois teachers, but Rezko lawyer Joseph Duffy said his client had done nothing wrong and was the real victim in the case. Duffy said any scheming was the invention of the government's key witness, a drug-abusing businessman named Stuart Levine, who liberally dropped Rezko's name to make it appear Levine had clout with the Blagojevich administration.
No court Friday. The trial resumes Monday morning. For complete coverage click here.
FBI analyst takes the stand
March 6, 2008; 5:45 p.m.
The second government witness was an FBI analyst who said his computer review of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign records tied Rezko to more than $1.4 million in fundraising activity. That figure is nearly three times what Rezko had publicly acknowledged raising on behalf of the governor.
The testimony from FBI Agent Charles Willenborg was part of an early government effort to demonstrate the close ties between Rezko and Blagojevich.
Susan Lichtenstein, former general counsel to Blagojevich, also testified this afternoon, telling the jury that Rezko was present at her interview for her job as the governor's top lawyer.
After she was hired in 2003, Lichtenstein testified, Rezko typically attended periodic strategy sessions held by Blagojevich with key staffers on a variety of topics and issues. Also in attendance were Chief of Staff Lon Monk, the governor's press secretary, the deputy governor and Chris Kelly, then Blagojevich's fundraising chief.
Prosecutors have highlighted the fact that Rezko had no official position in state government yet had extraordinary access to Blagojevich.
Rezko's attorneys had a chance to question Lichtenstein before the judge concluded for the day.
William Ziegelmueller, one of Rezko's lawyers, asked Lichtenstein about appointments to state boards and commissions. The government contends Rezko played a key role in the appointments.
Ziegelmueller asked Lichtenstein about detailed questionnaires that went out to recommended candidates for open board seats, trying to show that Rezko couldn't just wave a wand and get whomever he wanted to be accepted to a post.
In addition, there was a vetting process, Lichtenstein said. "There were law firms involved with that, yes," she told the jury.
Judge St. Eve halted the first day of testimony just before 5 p.m., asking the jury to return at 9:15 a.m. on Monday.
There's a time change this weekend, she reminded jurors. "Don't forget to turn your clocks forward," St. Eve said.
Rezko gavel-to-gavel: Week 1
We're Bob Secter and Jeff Coen from the Tribune, and we will be your online guides to the politically explosive Rezko trial. Check back several times a day for the latest. Click here for background and video.
(From left: prosecutor Carrie Hamilton, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, defense attorney Joseph Duffy)