Courtroom Wire: Notes From Tony Rezko's Corruption Trial

Published June 04, 2008

| FoxNews.com

Real estate developer Antoin "Tony" Rezko was on trial in a Chicago federal courtroom on political corruption charges for allegedly buying influence with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration.

Rezko doesn't deny his role as a high-powered money man for major Democrats — including presidential candidate Barack Obama when Obama served in the Illinois Legislature — but he refutes prosecutors allegations that he tried to shake down companies that wanted to do business with the state.

FOX News producers Marla Cichowski and Ruth Ravve are in the courtroom, following daily developments. Here are their reports.

Wednesday, June 4

(5:49 p.m. ET)

Rezko was taken from the courtroom into custody by U.S. Marshals.

Rezko's lawyer told the judge Rezko wanted to begin serving his sentence immediately.

His sentencing is set for Sept. 3, 2008, at 10 a.m. CT.

Before walking out of the courtroom, Rezko waved goodbye to his family and friends and they all waved back. Some blew kisses to him.

Rezko's defense team looks defeated.

Not sure if we can expect his attorneys to talk.

(4:56 p.m. ET)

Guilty on 6/9 wire fraud counts.

Not guilty on attempted extortion.

Guilty on 2/6 aiding and abetting bribery counts. Guilty on money laundering, 2 counts.

(3:49 p.m. ET)

Forwarded from the Court:

Everyone:

The Rezko jury has reached a verdict. The judge will read the verdict at 3:45 pm. Thank you.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Tuesday, May 13

(5:30 p.m. ET)

After nearly a second full day of closing arguments, attorneys in the federal corruption trial of Tony Rezko have spoken their last words to the jury.

This morning Rezko's attorney, Joe Duffy, continued to hammer away at the credibility of the government's key witness against Rezko, Stuart Levine.

Duffy told the jury, "Levine did not need Rezko for anything, but he needed him for one reason only, to avoid life in prison."

Levine pleaded guilty to corruption charges prior to the Rezko trial. In return he agreed to testify against Rezko and is eligible for a much lighter prison sentence, avoiding the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars.

Duffy spent the majority of his time this afternoon shifting all the focus onto Levine and his corrupt, drug-filled past. He described Rezko as the victim in this case, the victim of master "con man," Stuart Levine.

During the government's rebuttal closing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner told the jury Tony Rezko is the person on trial "because he was part of a corrupt ring of insiders who used their influence and power to corrupt the people, government and teachers of Illinois.

"The defendant is not a victim here ... focus on the millions of dollars of fraud that's defrauding people in the state of Illinois," Niewoehner said.

The government then displayed on a projector screen a breakdown of the money Rezko is accused of pocketing through bribes and kickbacks from companies seeking business with state boards. The grand total is; $3.915 million.

Rezko is charged with 24 counts of criminal activity, including mail fraud, wire fraud, attempted extortion, aiding and abetting bribery and money laundering.

Should he be convicted, Rezko could face a heavy sentence. Prosecutors say each count of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and attempted extortion carry a 20-year maximum sentence. Other charges carry 5- and 10-year maximum sentences

Before receiving jury instructions from Judge Amy St. Eve, one female juror passed a note to the judge via the bailiff saying she wasn't feeling well.

When Judge St. Eve informed the attorneys of the note, Duffy joked, "It wouldn't be the first time my closing arguments made someone sick."

Deliberations will not occur Wednesday in order to accommodate a juror's schedule.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Monday, May 12

(6:08 p.m. ET)

Tony Rezko's defense attorney Joe Duffy began his closing arguments this afternoon by attacking the credibility of the prosecution's star witness Stuart Levine.

Calling Levine a "liar" and a "thief," Duffy reminded the jury of Levine's severe drug abuse that spanned 30 years. Duffy detailed $1.3 million in cash Levine withdrew from his bank account over four years, asking "Where did it go? Where do you think it went!"

Duffy repeatedly attacked Levine's failing memory, saying the amount of drugs he abused affected his brain. Duffy even made the jury laugh at one point when he suggested that while Levine testified he would stare at the projector screen (used for exhibits) in the courtroom as if he were "getting subliminal messages" from it.

Duffy repeatedly referred to Levine as a "con man" who "lies so much he doesn't know when he's lying." Duffy told the jury, "It's like Pinocchio, his nose grew on the witness stand as I was cross-examining him."

Duffy then went on to attack the credibility of another key government witness, Ali Ata, saying Ata had a close relationship with Gov. Blagojevich for years before Ata even met Rezko and didn't need Rezko's help to secure a state job.

Rezko faces 24 criminal counts for fraud, attempted extortion and money laundering.

The defense expects to finish closing arguments tomorrow afternoon. The prosecution will then present its rebuttal argument before the jury begins deliberations.

— FOX News producers Marla Cichowski and Ruth Ravve provided this update

(5:19 p.m. ET)

During the defense closing arguments Rezko's lawyer, Joe Duffy, just told the jury: "The evidence shows Rezko spent more time in 2003-2004 fundraising for St. Jude's Children's Hospital, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, then he did for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich."

Duffy said Rezko held a few fundraisers for Obama while he was running for U.S. Senate.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(12:46 p.m. ET)

Inside a packed federal courtroom Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar told the jury, "This case is about the defendant, Tony Rezko's corrupt use of power and influence."

Schar repeatedly referred to Rezko as an insider who schemed to corrupt public officials for personal gain.

Schar emphasized the testimony and evidence presented during the past nine weeks shows without a doubt that Rezko tried to corrupt others to better himself and his good friends, and could care less about what was good for the Illinois government and state pension funds.

Reid proceeded to take the jury through the most important evidence in the case, explaining the most important details that he says shows Rezko is guilty as charged.

Rezko's friends and relatives filled at least two rows inside the courtroom. On the prosecution side of the room, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald sat in the front row to listen to Schar's closing arguments. Fitzgerald's name surfaced several times when Schar recalled for the jury testimony from one key witness (Ali Ata) who said Rezko told him, "Do not cooperate with the government, don't worry, the top federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, will be replaced."

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Monday, May 5
(1:52 p.m. ET)

Tony Rezko's defense team has rested its case, bringing the argument portion of the trial to a close barely an hour after prosecutors finished their case — one day shy of two months of witness testimony.

Calling no witnesses, Rezko's case consists of about three dozen exhibits and documents related to Rezko or other witnesses who have testified in the trial. One document refers to Rezko's medical records, but attorneys didn't go into details in court.

When asked why the defense decided not to call any witnesses on Rezko's behalf, Rezko's lead defense attorney Joe Duffy told the media, "We do not believe the government has met the burden of proving the charges against Mr. Rezko, plain and simple."

Now that both sides have rested, the jury will have the rest of the week off.

Closing arguments will begin next Monday and are expected to take two days. Jury deliberations could begin next Thursday.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(12:44 p.m. ET)

After nine weeks of testimony and evidence, the prosecution in the Tony Rezko trial has rested its case. Rezko's defense team says it will not call any witnesses in his defense. Tony Rezko will not testify on his own behalf.

After the lunch break the defense will present several documents as evidence and then rest its case.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Friday, May 2
(6:13 p.m. ET)

Tony Rezko's defense attorney, Joe Duffy, repeatedly attacked a key government witness, Ali Ata, over his testimony. Ata has pleaded guilty to tax fraud and lying to the FBI, (to protect Rezko) in a separate federal corruption case involving Rezko. Last week, Ata entered a plea deal with the government agreeing to testify against Rezko, in his current trial, in exchange for a lighter prison sentence. (12-18 months)

Ata's connection to Barack Obama: Records show Ata donated, $5,000 to Barack Obama's campaign for U.S. Senate in 2003. Rezko also asked Ata to make a $10,000 straw donation to Obama on Rezko's behalf (for his Senate campaign).

Today, Duffy took a low blow at Ata when he cross examined him about the days following the Sept. 11 attacks when FBI agents came to Ata's workplace to question him. Ata has a similar last name to one of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Duffy asked Ata, "I assume you had nothing to do with that?" Ata abruptly responded, "Come on! Let's not go there." Duffy apologized and said, "I'm sorry. I won't go there."

Ata testified he wanted a job with the state of Illinois — not for the $127,000/year salary — but as a way to redeem himself in Chicago's Arab community after he had been forced into taking an early retirement from his prestigious chemical enginnering job after Sept. 11.

Duffy also challenged Ata's testimony regarding what Rezko told him about Karl Rove and an Illinois GOP operative, Robert Kjellander, plotting to replace Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Duffy asked Ata, "you believe Tony Rezko could actually influence President Bush?" Ata, replied, "No." Duffy followed by saying, "Well, the president chooses the U.S. attorney, right?" Ata replied, "Yes."

"So you're suggesting that Mr. Rezko had the influence and power to influence the president?" Ata replied, "Tony Rezko informed me that Bob Kjellander was working with Karl Rove to change the U.S. attorney in Chicago." Karl Rove's attorney denies this claim.

In 2002 Ata donated $50,000 to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign — in return Rezko secured Ata a position as the head of the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA). Between 2003 and 2004 Ata says he contributed $125,000 to Blagojevich's campaign based on requests from Rezko. Ata says Rezko was part of the "kitchen cabinet" of close advisers to the governor who had an extreme amount of political influence.

Duffy is trying to show the jury that Ata did not need Rezko to influence anyone — in order to secure at state agency position for Ata.

Ata said he has known Blagojevich and his family for 20 years... well before Ata met Rezko, implying he had a strong relationship with Blagojevich before he became governor and before Rezko entered the picture.

Ata is the last key witness to testify on behalf of the government. His cross examination continues Monday. Rezko's defense team expects to call their first witness on Monday afternoon. Testimony could wrap up by Wednesday next week with closing arguments slated for May 12.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Thursday, May 1
(6:36 p.m. ET)

Government witness, Ali Ata explained during his testimony how an Illinois GOP operative, Bob Kjellander, and Karl Rove, President Bush's chief adviser, were believed to be plotting to get U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald removed from office.

Ata said during a meeting with Tony Rezko (in 2004), Rezko told him," Mr. Kjellander and Karl Rove would make the change in the U.S. Attorney's Office" (after the 2004 Presidential election) to replace Fitzgerald. Kjellander and Karl Rove are long time friends, and the two went to college together.

During 2004 Rezko was aware that several of his business associates were under investigation by the FBI for various reasons. Rezko told Ali Ata "those who cooperate with the government would be dealt with." (Implying that when the new U.S. attorney —replacing Fitzgerald— took office "those who cooperate" would be dealt with)

Ata says Rezko also asked him for a campaign contribution to Sen. (John) Kerry's presidential campaign and said "regardless who wins the (presidential) election, there will be a change in the U.S. Attorney's Office." (referring to Fitzgerald)

The 2004 election came and went and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald didn't go anywhere. Ata says the last time he spoke to Rezko was at a wedding in 2006. At the wedding Ata says Rezko told him "the plan will turn out just fine once the new U.S. Attorney gets into office." (Implying Rezko still believed someone would pull the strings to have Fitzgerald replaced, there was no mention of who may replace Fitzgerald)

FOX News recently spoke to Karl Rove's attorney about this claim. He maintains Rove does not recall speaking with Bob Kjellander about anything related to Fitzgerald's position as U.S. attorney.

He says Rove never had discussions with anyone at the Department of Justice or the White House regarding Fitzgerald's position.

After court today the judge suggested testimony in the case could wrap up by the middle of next week with closing arguments starting the following week, May 12.

(4:16 p.m. ET)

The witness some refer to as the government's secret weapon — Ali Ata — is now on the stand.

Ata was very close with Tony Rezko, visiting Rezko's Chicago office at least once a week to discuss business. Ata recently pleaded guilty to charges of tax fraud and lying to FBI agents about Rezko's influence. Today Ata is testifying about his relationship with Rezko.

Born and raised in Jordan, Ata, 56, moved to the U.S. in 1970 to go to college at UIC in Chicago. Ata first became friends with Rezko after Ata was let go from his job as a chemical engineer in 2001. Ata testified that a few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks FBI agents visited him at his work to question him. Ata shares the same last name as one of the 9/11 hijackers. Two weeks after the FBI's visit, Ata's employer offered him an early retirement package. Ata called it "devastating."

As part of his plea agreement, Ata has agreed to testify against Rezko in exchange for a lighter prison sentence of 12-18 months (The maximum sentence was eight years).

Ata says in 2002 he donated $50,000 to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign. In return Tony Rezko secured Ata a position as the head of the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA). Between 2003-2004 Ata says he contributed $125,000 to Blagojevich's campaign based on requests from Rezko.

Ata also donated $5,000 to Obama's campaign in 2003 and Rezko asked Ata to make straw donation to Obama's campaign for $10,000, he said. The Democratic presidential candidate has donated Rezko-related contributions to charity.

Ata says Rezko was part of the "kitchen cabinet" of close advisers to the governor and had an extreme amount of political influence. At a fundraiser for Blagojevich, Ata says the governor thanked him for his support and contributions and then told him that Ata's new state job at IFA "would be a job where I (Ata) could make some money."

A source close to the trial says Ata's testimony will be the "nail in the coffin" for the jury to convict Rezko on charges of fraud, money laundering and attempted extortion.

This is the ninth week of the Rezko trial. Judge St. Eve told jurors earlier this week closing arguments could happen two weeks from now.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Thursday, April 24
(4:16 pm ET)

Good quotes from Oscar-winning Hollywood movie producer Tom Rosenberg. These are comments he made to people about how Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly — Governor Blagojevich's insiders — were trying to shake him down for a $1.5 million campaign contribution

Rosenberg said he told Alison Davis (Davis is a political insider and Barack Obama's former boss at his Chicago law firm) to tell "Mssr. Rezko and Kelly that they'll never get a dime from me. Ever! ... I would walk away from the business before I ever did (give them a dime)."

Rosenberg later talked to Illinois Republican power-broker Bill Cellini about Rezko and Kelly's attempted extortion.

Rosenberg told Cellini to tell Rezko and Kelly, "I would take them down," by which he meant Rezko and Kelly weren't going to get away with "the shakedown."

Rosenberg also told Cellini to tell Rezko, "I would tell this story on the corner of State and Madison" (the center of downtown Chicago).

"I would tell this story directly to Governor Blagojevich."

He also said, "If there wasn't already a grand jury convened there would be one soon to investigate Rezko and Kelly."

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(2:57 p.m. ET)

Testimony today focused on Hollywood movie producer Tom Rosenberg. Rosenberg is chairman and CEO of Lakeshore Entertainment Group. He won an Oscar for best picture for "Million Dollar Baby."

Rezko is accused of trying to extort money from Rosenberg. The prosecution says Rezko and Stuart Levine wanted Rosenberg to make a $1.5 million campaign contribution to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, in exchange for TRS (teacher retirement system) making a significant investment in Rosenberg's asset management firm, Capri Capital. Rosenberg refused and threatened to rat out Levine and Rezko and they backed off.

During his testimony today Rosenberg described his heated discussions with Levine in May 2002 when Levine was asking Rosenberg to make a $250,000 donation to Levine's charity. Rosenberg told Levine he never wanted to talk to him to again. The next time he saw Levine was in 2004, when he said the two of them "lied to each other for a few minutes he said how he liked me and I said the same."

At one point Rosenberg says he was made aware that the $220 million investment TRS slated for Capri Capital was in jeopardy when a rumor started circulating among the TRS Board that Capri Capital was being sold to another financial firm. Rosenberg thought Levine was behind it, but Illinois insider/power broker, Bill Cellini, assured Rosenberg that wasn't the case. Levine testified earlier that he was in fact behind the rumor, causing the delay.

Cellini also told Rosenberg that TRS Director Jon Bauman was having serious stress attacks because he was under so much pressure from Blagoevich insiders (Levine/Rezko) to approve certain investments.

Rosenberg told Cellini "one day Jon Bauman is going to be holding his hand up under oath and it's going to be very bad for Mr. Rezko and Mr. (Chris) Kelly."

Judge St. Eve told the jury the trial should last closer to 12 weeks rather than 16 weeks and that the presentation of evidence in the trial should be finished by the end of May.

FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update.

Wednesday, April 23
(3:16 p.m. ET)

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this wire entry mistakenly said that Robert Kjellander had pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the Rezko case. However, Randall Samborn with the U.S. attorney's office confirms that Kjellander has not been charged and has not been subpeonaed to appear in court in regards to this case. We regret the error.

Former White House aide Karl Rove is being linked to a conspiracy surrounding Tony Rezko's corruption trial.

The connection was made early this morning, when prosecutors told a U.S. district judge they want to call to the stand a former Illinois state official named Ali Ata.

Prosecutors say Ata — who pleaded guilty to corruption charges on Tuesday — can testify to conversations he had with Rezko about efforts to stop the criminal investigation.

Prosecutors say the plan was for Republican National Committee member Robert Kjellander to work with Rove to have U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald fired. Getting rid of Fitzgerald would allow them to find someone else so that "individuals who have been cooperating in the investigation will be dealt with differently."

Rove attorney Robert Luskin says Rove "does not recall" Kjellander ever speaking to Rove about removing Fitzgerald, and Rove never has spoken to anyone at the White House or Justice Department about removing Fitzgerald.

Back in the courtroom today is former Illinois Teachers' Retirement System Board attorney Steve Loren. Loren is on the stand being hammered by Rezko attorney Joe Duffy.

In emotional testimony, Loren, who once described the prosecution's top witness Stuart Levine as his best friend, claims Levine lied and manipulated him into assisting in the pay-for-play kickback scheme.

Duffy worked to destroy Loren's credibility by showing him to be heavily under the influence of Levine, who is an admitted liar and drug abuser. Duffy asked Loren if he was "enamored with" Levine. "I was impressed with him," Loren said.

Most important to Duffy's point was to minimize his client's involvement with Loren, getting Loren to admit that while he had mentioned Rezko's name several times during his testimony, he actually only briefly met Rezko once and only learned of Rezko's involvement via Levine.

— FOX News producer Ruth Ravve provided this update.

Tuesday, April 22
(4:35 p.m. ET)

It appears the government's case against Tony Rezko has just gotten a lot stronger.

Ali D. Ata, former executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority, and an alleged co-conspirator of Rezko's, pleaded guilty today on charges of making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and of making false statements on his income tax return for under-reporting his income.

The government says Ata helped Rezko illegally borrow $10 million in state funds for the purchase of pizza restaurants, and that he paid Rezko $125,000 in cash, in exchange for a guarantee from Rezko for a coveted position in Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration. Ata has also contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Blagojevich's campaign.

The guilty plea is part of a deal Ata made so prosecutors would recommend a reduced prison sentence, but it also likely means he'll testify against Rezko in his corruption trial.

The maximum sentence Ata could face on the two charges would be to eight years in prison, plus a $500,000 fine and three years supervised release. It's expected that sentence will be much lower, due to Tuesday's plea.

Meanwhile on Day 29 of Rezko's trial, former Teachers' Retirement System Board attorney Steve Loren is back on the stand, talking about his role in aiding the corruption of state funds.

Loren says Stuart Levine, the prosecution's star witness, heavily pressured him to write up documents calling for "finder's fees" from companies that wanted to invest state funds. He was then told to set up a company with the sole purpose of handling the cash. The prosecution says the money was to be split with Levine and Rezko.

Loren says Levine made it clear that Rezko had the ability to easily access Illinois state funds.

Monday, April 21
(6:30 p.m. ET)

(U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve is currently speaking to the people who originally agreed to put their properties up for collateral to pay Rezko's bail back in Oct. 2006 to see if they are still willing to do so for the current higher valued bond).

A former attorney says he inadvertedly helped Rezko and others with their corruption of a state retirement fund.

Steve Loren testified that while he served as outside council to the Teachers' Retirement System Board, he was pressured to draft an agreement for businessman Sheldon "Shelly" Pekin. That agreement would allow Pekin to split a so-called "finder's fee" collected from an investment firm in exchange for state business.

Loren claims he tried to ask who Pekin would be splitting the money with, but was told "it doesn't matter." He said, however, he later learned the cash was to be split with Rezko and his associate, Chris Kelly.

Loren says Stuart Levine specifically told him the document "should look legitimate" in case a third party might look at it, such as an assistant district attorney.

Loren also talked about seeing Rezko at a luncheon for President Bush he attended in August 2003, at the invitation of prosecution star witness Stuart Levine. Levine apparently purchased enough luncheon tickets for an entire table. Rezko was one of those seated at the table.

Loren claims Levine purchased the table to give TRS executive director Jon Bauman a chance to meet the president. Bauman was able to take a picture with Bush.

Loren's testimony continues tomorrow. The trial begins at 1 p.m. ET, so the judge is allowing Rezko to leave home at 11 a.m. ET in order to make it to court on time.

(3:30 p.m. ET)

A direct connection was made by a witness today to Tony Rezko and the bogus "consulting" fees required of investment firms, in exchange for access to millions in Illinois state funds.

Richard Driehaus, the founder and owner of Driehaus Capital Management (DCM), took the stand today to recall a significant dinner meeting in 2003, where he was first introduced to Rezko. Driehaus says he was told Rezko was "close to the state of Illinois" and could be a potential client.

According to Driehaus, Rezko had no interest in learning much DCM, and only seemed to care about whether Driehaus would pay a "finder's fee" if his company was given state business.

Driehaus said he tried to clarify where the finder's fee would be going, but when he asked, Rezko became angry. Driehaus described Rezko as becoming "very, very verbal," and saying, "He has a very strong personality and he can be very direct."

Driehaus then said the conversation became very "uncomfortable" until he told Rezko, "I don't pay money to get money" and then the conversation was over.

Right now, former attorney Steve Loren is on the stand. Loren is explaining how board members for the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System Board were chosen.

Earlier in the day, Former Illinois TRS Board investor Scott Parrish was questioned about TRS' relationship with various investment firms. Agreements with those firms, such as Sterling Partners, required a kickback, or finder's fee.

Parrish says against his better judgment, TRS Executive Director Jon Bauman pressured him to recommend the firms to the TRS Board. Bauman was allegedly tightly controlled at that time, by prosecution star witness Stuart Levine, who sat on the overseeing board and approved Bauman's salary.

Prosecutors claim the "finder's fee" was actually a kickback that Levine and Rezko intended to share. Ultimately though, the board didn't approve Sterling.

Rezko was able to walk into court on his own today, for the first time since his trial began. Federal District Judge Amy St. Eve released Rezko on bond last Friday, after an $8.7 million bond was posted.

— FOX News producer Ruth Ravve provided this update.

Friday, April 18
(4:36 p.m. ET)

Antoin "Tony" Rezko is about to be a free man, at least until the end of his trial. A Federal District Court judge is releasing him today on $8.7 million bond. Judge Amy St. Eve ordered him behind bars earlier this year, after he failed to tell the court about a $3.5 million wire transfer he received from Lebanon. His attorneys had appealed for his release, saying they can't adequately meet with their client while he's incarcerated.

In order to come up with the new bail amount, several friends and family members put up a total of 30 properties as collateral. St. Eve reminded Rezko that if he flees, all those people will lose their homes. The judge said her decision to release Rezko is based in part on the fact that he has so many members of his family and community supporting him.

The judge released Rezko to the custody of his wife, while restricting him to home confinement with an ankle monitoring device. He's only allowed to leave home to come to court.

Testimony in Rezko's corruption trial continues Monday morning at 10:15 a.m. ET, with Scott Parrish, a former equity manager for the Illinois Teacher's Retirement Fund.

— FOX News producer Ruth Ravve provided this update.

(9:33 a.m. ET)

A court hearing this morning to determine whether Tony Rezko should be released on bond failed to reach a conclusion. Judge Amy St. Eve says she still needs more information from the defense team on how they'll come up with the $8 million property equity, plus $350,000 of Rezko's own money, needed for his release.

Three additional Rezko friends came to court today to say they would be willing to post their homes as collateral toward the bond, including Ali Baghdadi, who says he has known Rezko for 20 years through their work with Arab charities.

The trial is set to begin at 10 a.m. ET. Investor Daniel Rosenberg is back on the stand to talk about efforts by his company to acquire money from the Illinois Teacher's Retirement Fund.

Judge St. Eve is expected to continue the bond hearing when the trial ends for the day today, at 1 p.m. ET.

— FOX News producer Ruth Ravve provided this update.

Thursday, April 17
(7:28 p.m. ET)

Tony Rezko will remain behind bars, at least for the night.

Defense lawyers made a plea to judge Amy St. Eve to release Rezko on bond. $8 million worth of property equity was offered as collateral. The properties are owned by 16 family members and friends of Rezko.

However, prosecutors disagree on the value of the properties stated by the defense, saying it wasn't enough to cover the $8 million amount. Instead, they said it totaled just $4.5 million. In addition, the government said Rezko is a known liar who will flee as soon as he's released, causing 16 people to lose their homes when the bond is forfeited.

St Eve said she will take the matter under advisement and make a decision tomorrow.

Earlier in court today, Chuck Hannon completed his testimony. Daniel Rosenberg, of Sterling Partners investment company, then briefly took the stand to explain efforts to get money from the Illinois Teacher's Retirement Fund.

His testimony continues Friday.

— FOX News producer Ruth Ravve provided this update.

(3:01 p.m. ET)

Antoin "Tony" Rezko's name is back at the forefront of today's testimony at his corruption trial.

Attorney Charles Hannon, who had a close relationship with Rezko, is revealing himself today as the bogus "consultant" who was supposed to earn a large fee from an investment company, in exchange for that company getting Illinois state business.

Hannon says the phony consulting position was set up by Tony Rezko.

Hannon's wife, podiatrist Fortunee Massouda, who introduced her husband to Rezko, is suing Rezko for the return of $3.5 million she loaned him for various business ventures.

Rezko, who was having trouble paying back the loan, offered to make Massouda a paid "consultant" on the sale of the State of Illinois building, but she turned it down, Hannon said.

During cross examination, defense attorney Joe Duffy tried to break down Hannon's credibility, by detailing the fact that Hannon consulted a neurologist in 2002 for memory problems. The doctor had prescribed Arecept to Hannon, a drug used to treat Alzheimer's.

Rezko's defense team is once again trying to get their client out on bond. Early this morning they appealed to Judge Amy St. Eve to release Rezko on bond. No decision has yet been made, but could come at the end of court today. Rezko has been held behind bars since earlier this year, when it was discovered he received a $3.5 million wire transfer from an associate in Lebanon. The judge then considered Rezko a flight risk.

— FOX News producer Ruth Ravve provided this update.

Wednesday, April 16
(5:55 p.m . ET)

Details began emerging this afternoon in Tony Rezko's corruption trial about how kickbacks were sought from investment firms in exchange for millions in Illinois state business.

Clyde Robinson, director of investment firm J.E. Roberts took the stand this afternoon, to detail efforts to get retirement fund leaders to invest $85 million with his company. Before that could happen though, Robinson said he was told JER had to pay a financial compensation to a so-called "consultant." The consulting contract, he said, was rife with typos and was sent by a company located in Turks and Caicos. Robinson characterized this as "unusual" and said he wasn't sure if the compensation request was legitimate or a "shakedown." Robinson said he was threatened that "if the agreement wasn't signed today, we would be yanked from the (teacher's retirement) board's agenda."

Bogus consultant fees, according to prosecution witness Stuart Levine's earlier testimony, were demanded as compensation from several investment firms in exchange for state business. Levine claimed Tony Rezko was involved with choosing the consultants.

On cross-examination however, the defense team was able to further play down Tony Rezko's role in the scheme. Robinson admitted that Rezko's name was never mentioned during discussions of compensation and that he'd never actually met the defendant.

Robinson is done with his testimony.

Earlier this afternoon, former Democratic Party fundraiser Joe Cari testified about meeting with a staff member for Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. Cari claims he was offered state contracts in exchange for his help raising national funds for the governor. Cari said the conversation made him so uncomfortable, afterwards he told an assistant "that I needed to take a shower."

Taking the stand tomorrow will be Charles Hannon, who allegedly worked with Rezko on investments.

— FOX News producer Ruth Ravve provided this update.

(2:37 p.m. ET)

On the stand today is attorney Joe Cari, a former Democratic Party fundraiser. Cari pleaded guilty to extortion and is testifying for the prosecution in exchange for the plea deal.

Cari's testimony under cross examination, is helping Rezko's defense team play down Rezko's role in kickback schemes. Cari explained that it was actually prosecution star witness Stuart Levine who heavily pressured him to help set up investment firms with phony consultants, in order to gain bribe money. Cari at one time referred to Levine as "menacing," saying Levine "threatened to pull his legal work from our firm" if he didn't get what he wanted. He said Levine "became more and more demanding" as time went on.

Defense attorney Joe Duffy also played wiretapped phone calls of conversations between Cari and Levine. The the two discussed setting up investment firm Glencoe with Illinois State Pension Fund money. "Are you aware you committed a crime?" Duffy asked. Cari replied, "Yes," and that it was on behalf of Levine.

Duffy pointed out that when the government came to question Cari the first time, it was government agents who first brought up Rezko's name in connection with the fraudulent schemes.

Cross-examination of Cari is expected to wrap up this afternoon.

— FOX News producer Ruth Ravve provided this update.

Monday, April 14
(4:40 p.m. ET)

Prosecution star witness Stuart Levine on the stand for the sixth day of cross-examination by Rezko defense attorney Joseph Duffy.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's name was mentioned briefly today, as Duffy recounted a party in April 2004, hosted by Tony Rezko at his suburban Chicago home. Levine testified that the guest of honor was a controversial British-Iraqi billionaire, named Nadhmi Auchi. Levine said Obama was a guest at the party as well. Rezko threw the party because he was apparently trying to get Auchi to invest in property he wanted to develop.

Duffy spent much of the day scrutinizing Levine's relationship with Rezko, in an attempt to show that it wasnt as close as Levine had claimed, that instead it was Levine simply working to ingratiate himself with Rezko, in order to gain influence with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Levine recounted tens of thousands of dollars he raised while fundraising for the Governor. Duffy questioned Levine about his motives for all the fundraising, asking "would you say fundraising is different from engaging in corrupt transactions?" To which Levine replied "it can be".

Levine is back on the stand for further cross-examination tomorrow.

— FOX News producer Ruth Ravve provided this update.

Thursday, April 10
(3:55 p.m. ET)

The prosecution's star witness, Stuart Levine was on the stand for Day 6 of cross-examination.

Tony Rezko's defense attorney, Joe Duffy, picked through Levine's testimony about his relationship with Rezko and whether Levine was able to use that relationship to influence Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board members to his advantage.

Earlier, Duffy spent much of the day trying to disprove Levine's contention that Rezko was manipulating board members behind the scenes to approve a controversial hospital project. The project, Levine said, would have netted Rezko and Levine over $1 million kickbacks.

Duffy had Levine recall that there weren't enough votes on the board in favor of the proposal, until Levine spoke privately to an opposing board member and got him to change his vote.

Duffy once again reminded the jury of Levine's drug use, twice asking him if before his meeting with the Health Facilities Planning Board, "Did you stop to pick up crystal meth?"

To which Levine replied "No sir."

In an effort to move the trial along at one point, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve admonished Levine, saying, "You're not here to engage in conversation. ... Please listen to the questions and answer the questions"

There is no court Friday. Court resumes Monday. April 14.

— FOX News producer Ruth Ravve provided this update.

Wednesday, April 9
(3:59 p.m. ET)

On the stand: Stuart Levine, the government start witness who has pleaded guilty to all charges against him and is testifying against Tony Rezko. It's Day 5 of his cross-examination.

Rezko's defense attorney, Joe Duffy, is taking Levine on a trip down memory lane to recount all of his meetings and encounters with Tony Rezko from 2002-04. Levine testified he could schedule an appointment with Rezko whenever he wanted and Rezko rarely kept him waiting.

Levine recounted one meeting with Rezko in 2003, where Levine asked Rezko, "Would it make a difference if we could make money" by controlling votes on Illinois state boards.

Levine said Rezko responded, "You bet."

Levine added he also told Rezko they could get "significant political contributions to the Governor" — Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Levine said Rezko responded something along the lines of "That's great."

Duffy now is trying to expose inconsistencies with Levine's prior testimony and what is stated in Levine's plea agreement. Duffy wants the jury to think Levine was operating his complex bribes scheme on his own and did not need Rezko's help or clout with the Illinois governor to get things done.

Levine says Rezko signed off on a $1 million bribe from the Jacob Kiferbaum, a construction company owner, to ensure that his company would get the contract to build a new hospital.

But in Levine's plea agreement, which Duffy read aloud in court, it states Levine arranged the bribe amount with Kiferbaum before Levine even met with Rezko at his office.

Levine will be cross-examined Thursday and possibly through the first half of next week. Court is not in session on Friday.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Tuesday, April 8
(3:47 p.m. ET)

Day Four/Stuart Levine cross-examination

Levine says when the FBI first visited him at his home in May 2004, it had a "substantial affect" on him. However during that meeting he did not tell the entire truth, admitting, "I would lie to people when it was in my interest to lie" as well as cheat people out of money because it was in his best interest.

Levine admitted, "I did not understand the full scope of the trouble I was in at the time of the FBI's visit."

Regarding his continuous drug abuse Levine in 2007 told prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office that he gave up drugs "cold turkey" after the FBI first questioned him in May 2004. Today in court Levine gave conflicting testimony, saying he stopped using drugs two to three months after the FBI first questioned him.

Levine also said he continued to speak to his "drug friends" and told them individually to lay low because he did not want the government to find out about them.

Tony Rezko's name surfaced this morning when Levine discussed the conversation he had with Rezko at a friend's dinner party on Nov. 2, 2002 (The first time Levine met Rezko).

Rezko and Levine discussed a real estate deal involving a Chicago medical building that Rezko had an interest in buying. Levine said Rezko told him he was holding up the real estate closing on the building by creating an artificial excuse that would give Rezko more time to seal the deal.

Levine said he became angry and told Rezko, "If there was an artificial problem being created to prevent a closing, I wouldn't tolerate it." Levine says Rezko then said, "If this property had been promised to someone else, he would not stand in the way." By the following Tuesday, the problem was resolved as Rezko promised.

Defense attorney Joe Duffy is now questioning Levine about his motivations for sitting on Illinois State Pension Boards after Illinois Dem Gov. Rod Blagojevich took office in 2003. Duffy, "Isnt it true you wanted to ingratiate yourself with the new administration?" Levine answered "Absolutely."

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Monday, April 7
(4:04 p.m. ET)

Testimony continues from government star witness Stuart Levine, who has entered a plea deal saying he orchestrating illegal deals with Tony Rezko.

Levine — an acknowledged heavy drug user — admitted he cannot remember the day, month or year that he entered into a plea agreement with the government and pleaded guilty to corruption charges — a day he said was a "very significant day" in his life.

Rezko attorney Joe Duffy questioned Levine about several occasions where Levine wore a wiretap to record conversations with other alleged co-schemers — not including Rezko — who were involved in this case.

Levine said he wore two recording devices at all times, however, on one occasion in June 2006, both devices failed to record Levine's conversation because somehow they were turned off.

When asked in a meeting in 2006 by the government how that happened, Levine said on the day of conversation, he was wearing an Armani sports coat that had an extra button on the inside, and possibly the extra button turned off the recording device.

The only overt reference to Rezko so far today came this morning when Duffy brought up the fact that Rezko told Levine he should not talk to him on the phone about business. When Duffy asked Levine to remember the wiretapped phone conversations he had with Rezko, Duffy made a point to clarify to Levine, "You do not hear anything on tape that he (Rezko) says he's agreed to commit (to meet) with you?" Levine responds, "no."

Levine — who says his drug abuse began in the 1970s — revealed he is currently taking an anti-anxiety prescription drug, Xanax.

Defense attorney Joe Duffy spent the morning grilling Levine on his "all night drug binges" at posh Illinois hotels where Levine and three or four other men who were his "drug friends" snorted 1/2-inch lines of crystal meth and Ketamine while drinking vodka.

Levine also discussed snorting meth several times in his downtown Chicago office with the door closed when his secretary was working. When asked if it was true that Levine's secretary could hear him snorting drugs in his office, Levine replied, "If my snorting was so loud that you could hear me through the wall or door, I'm quite amazed at the loudness of my snorting."

Levine estimates he spent $20,000 per year on drugs over 2000-04. He says during those years he spent about $2,000 a month on drugs and used drugs 1-2 times a month. A highly doubtful Duffy pressed Levine asking him, "Is the range you are giving the jury, a low range?"

Levine responded, "No, it's the range I believe it to be."

Duffy rebutted, "You are relying on your memory, right? The same memory that you can't even remember when you pled guilty (to corruption charges)?"

Levine, "yes sir"

Levine's testimony won't be over any time soon. Cross-examination is expected to last several more days.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Friday, April 4
(3:48 p.m. ET)

For the second day in a row, Tony Rezko's defense attorney grilled the government's star witness, Stuart Levine about his inability to remember details behind the deals and meetings involving his alleged co-schemer — Rezko — in a "pay to play" scheme over 2002-04.

Levine is testifying as part of his own plea agreement in which he admitted to charges of fraud, money laundering, extortion and other charges in exchange for a lighter prison sentence.

This morning, lead defense attorney Joe Duffy spent three hours asking Levine to recall the month and year he first met with the U.S. Attorney's office to begin cooperating with them. Levine said it was January or February of 2006.

Duffy asked Levine, "You can't even remember the month of the meeting you had with the government that changed your life significantly?"

Levine admitted that when he first met with representatives from the U.S. Attorney's office, he did not tell them the whole truth about another alleged co-schemer (Ed Vrdolyak, a former Chicago city alderman), because at the time Levine was expecting a $750,000 kickback payment from Vrdolyak that hadn't come through yet.

Duffy — one of the highest-paid and well-known defense attorneys in Chicago — is slowly chipping away at Levine's credibility, which could be suspect in the jury's eyes because of Levine's 30-plus year relationship with a long list of hard-core drugs.

Levine is back on the stand Monday, with his cross-examination lasting possibly through next week.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Thursday, April 3
(3:07 p.m. ET)

Tony Rezko's defense attorney, Joe Duffy began cross-examining the government's star witness, Stuart Levine, today in court.

Levine has spent nine days on the stand testifying for the prosecution about the numerous kickbacks and bribes he and Rezko were involved with from 2002-04.

It's no secret Levine — a once wealthy businessman and attorney — has a dark past with illegal drugs spanning 30-plus years. He admitted as much during his testimony for the prosecution.

Now it's the defense's turn, and their strategy — revealed in questioning Thursday — is to attempt to cut Levine's credibility to shreds by challenging his shady past and shaky memory caused by his extensive drug use, especially by poking holes in Levine's memory of 2002.

During the first few questions, Levine proved his memory is questionable at best because he could not remember the dates of taped phone recordings that have been played in court for the past two weeks.

Duffy cut right to the point by first asking Levine: "You've been involved in criminal activity your entire adult life?"

Levine answered no, then changed his answer to yes after recounting that his drug abuse began in his 20s.

Levine explained how he would attend all-day drug parties during the week, typically between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., with other men at a North Shore suburban hotel, the Purple Hotel.

During these drug binges there would be a table set up lined with drugs including, "cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy and Special K," otherwise known as the horse-tranquilizer Ketamine.

Levine said he typically drank vodka while using drugs.

Duffy revealed a credit card statement with a charge to Levine for the Purple Hotel dated Saturday, Nov. 2, 2002 — the same day Levine said he first met Rezko at a friends dinner party.

Levine said he has no memory of being at the hotel that day. But Duffy followed up by asking Levine, "You would admit your memory fails you at times?" Levine answered, "Yes, sir."

Duffy later drilled Levine with questions about the number of crimes he's committed. Levine listed off his rap sheet saying, "I did illegal drugs, I took bribes, committed fraud, money laundering, mail fraud, attempted extortion."

Duffy later asked him, "You didn't need Tony Rezko to know how to take a bribe or kickback?"

Levine: "No."

Duffy: "Or to lie or to cheat or to steal?"

Levine: "No, sir."

Duffy: "Or to be a con man?"

Levine: "No."

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Wednesday, April 2
(4:12 p.m. ET)

Hollywood movie producer Tom Rosenberg is expected to testify for the prosecution at some point during the Rezko trial. When he does, he'll likely go into the details about how he was allegedly "shaken down" by Rezko and others for a $1.5 million campaign contribution to Gov. Rod Blagojevich in return for his firm (Capri Capital) getting a significant investment from the Illinois State Teachers Pension Fund, a May 2004 decision.

Levine has spent several days testifying, part of which involved Rosenberg. The story so far goes that Rosenberg told Levine's business associate, Bill Cellini — a GOP political power player in Illinois who was helping arrange the illegal deal — he would rat out Rezko.

Rosenberg reportedly has said: "I'll call whoever I gotta call. Ill bring them (Rezko and bus partner Chris Kelly) down. They've got the problem, not me"; "They've got 48 hours. If they don't back off, I'll get rid of them"; "I'll call the governor. I'll call whoever I have to call to take you down."

When Cellini recounts his phone conversation with Rosenberg for Levine, Cellini says "when these cards start falling everyone who's associated with this is going to go through the ringer."

Among Rosenberg's contributions to Illinois lawmakers was cash to Barack Obama. The producer with an Oscar-winning movie under his belt gave Obama's presidential campaign $2,300 on June 28, 2007; and $2,300 on Sept. 18, 2007. His Senate campaign got $2,000 on June 23, 2004. The Obama presidential campaign has given to charity the equivalent of all contributions from Rosenberg along with any other cash received that campaign officials say could be reasonably tied to Rezko. That's about $160,000 so far.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Tuesday, April 1
(6:06 p.m. ET)

Stuart Levine still is going over intricate details of his wheelings and dealings with investment firms and the state teacher pension fund.

In a wiretapped phone call, Levine says "never before have we had this much power" with the Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (the "We" being Levine and Rezko).

Levine also discussed in detail the circumstances that underpin the state's attempted extortion charge against Rezko.

Discusses in detail the deal he was arranging with Tom Rosenberg, a Hollywood movie producer ("Million Dollar Baby"), who runs real estate management firm Capri Capital. Capri did business on several occasions with the state Teachers' Retirement System Board. The TRS Board invested $100 million with Capri in 2001. Levine maintains Rosenberg cheated him out of $500,000 during that deal.

In 2004, the TRS Board was expected to invest $220 million with Capri Capital.

In that deal, Levine (with Rezko's blessing) allegedly tried to bribe Rosenberg into either paying a finder's fee or a $1.5 million donation to Blagojevich. Levine says Rezko told him: "Orchestrate the whole thing. Just let me know."

Rosenberg smelled something dirty was happening and threatened to out Levine and company about the bribe. Levine later backed off.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(3:20 p.m. ET)

Star witness in Rezko trial, Stuart Levine remains on the stand for the seventh day.

Levine admitted to arranging an illegal deal with Joe Cari, an Illinois Democrat and former national finance chair for Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.

When Levine first met Cari, Levine recalls, Levine told him he had a relationship with Tony Rezko. He also told Cari if he was interested in raising money for Blagojevich, he should do it through Rezko.

Records obtained by FOX News show Cari donated $1,439 to Barack Obama on Aug. 10, 2005.

Levine says he worked with Cari to get an investment firm doing business with the state teachers pension board to pay a finder's fee to one of Rezko's friends, Chuck Hannon.

Levine says it was Rezko who told Levine to give the finder's fee to Chuck Hannon, someone who had no apparent connection to securing the investment deal. When asked if Hannon knew why he was getting the money, Levine said Hannon "knew he was getting it from someone about something."

Eventually the deal unraveled and Hannon never got the money.

Hannon's wife, Dr. Fortunee Massouda, a Chicago podiatrist and close friend of Rezko's, contributed $2,000 to Barack Obama in January 2004.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Monday, March 31
(4:33 p.m. ET)

Note! Today's testimony involves a Rezko business associate, Joe Aramanda, who according to the Chicago Sun Times, donated $10,000 to Obama's campaign for U.S. Senate. Several members of state boards mentioned in testimony were close to Rezko also donated to Obama.

After a week off, Tony Rezko's public corruption trial resumed this morning with the government's star witness, Stuart Levine on the stand. Today marks Day 6 of Levine's testimony.

This afternoon, prosecutors questioned Levine, who had a close business relationship with Rezko, about his extensive history of drug abuse.

Levine said he started experimenting with ecstasy and cocaine in the 1980s. Later he switched to snorting crystal meth and using Ketamine. Levine admits to always buying his drugs with cash, typically withdrawing amounts of less than $10,000 at a time to avoid any suspicion from the government (Note: This does not always work, however. Just ask Eliot Spitzer.)

Even though Levine has pleaded guilty to the corruption charges against him in this case in exchange for a lighter prison sentence, he has not been charged with dealing or possessing drugs. Levine, however, knows the judge will consider his drug use at the time of his sentencing.

Levine says he often used drugs in his own office, but never did drugs before any meetings of state boards to which he was appointed.

Levine later explained how he helped orchestrate a deal with Rezko to secure a $50 million investment with the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System Board, which manages the educators' pension fund.

Levine says he "received instructions" from Rezko to split a $500,000 finder's fee with one of Rezko's business associates, Joe Aramanda. Aramanda is not indicted in this case but has contributed money to Obama's campaign. The Chicago Sun-Times reports Obama has returned Aramanda's money. The paper also reported Aramanda's son interned with Obama's Illinois office in 2005.

As a TRS Board member, Levine made sure the TRS Board director voted in favor of a 2004 deal to invest $50 million with private equity firm, Glencoe Capital.

But Levine says when it came time for the "finder" to split the finder's fee money with Aramanda, there was a glitch. The finder, Sheldon Pekin, didn't deliver Aramanda's share of the money when Aramanda expected it.

Levine immediately called Pekin and, in a panic, said, "If we don't get this (deal) finished today Tony's (Rezko) isn't going to do business any more like that. ... We gotta get this finished today otherwise we're f*****."

The finder, Pekin, then delivered the money to Aramanda.

The finder's fee amount was 1 percent of the $50 million investment, or $500,000. Levine says a deal was made for Pekin to split the money 50/50 with Aramanda, Rezko's pal.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Friday, March 21
(2:18 p.m. ET)

For the first time in the trial, jurors on Friday heard the voice of defendant Tony Rezko during a tape-recorded phone call played in court.

The phone call was between Rezko and Illinois Hospital Facilities Planning board member Stuart Levine in May 2004. Levine, who entered into a plea agreement, has turned as a key witness for the federal government.

The two were discussing how they planned to control votes on the state board. Then Rezko tells Levine what to do in order to cover their tracks. He discusses an unnamed female board member.

During the phone call, Rezko tells Levine: "I need you to call her and tell her you all take directions from the Chairman (of the board) ... to shift the focus" — away from Rezko.

Levine testified that Rezko's comment meant "only he and I were to understand the relationship we had in relation to the planning board."

Levine, 62, is a major player in Illinois GOP politics. Levine has admitted to making bribes and taking kickbacks from firms seeking business with Illinois state pension funds. As part of his plea agreement he confessed to all the corruption charges against him and agreed to testify against Rezko in exchange for a reduced prison sentence.

Court ended at 2 p.m. ET for the day. There is no court next week. The trial will resume on Monday, March 31, with Stuart Levine on the stand.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Thursday, March 20
(4:12 p.m. ET)

For the third day in a row the government's star witness, Stuart Levine, is on the stand.

Levine, 62, is a major player in Illinois GOP politics. (A Chicago Sun-Times article today shows every politician, Republican and Democrat, to whom Levine contributed money, including U.S. congressmen and senators. Click here to read the article).

Levine has admitted to making bribes and taking kickbacks from firms seeking business with Illinois state pension funds. As part of his plea agreement, he's agreed to testify against Tony Rezko.

Levine says he used his role as an influential board member on two Illinois state boards to orchestrate illegal deals with Rezko.

One of the deals involved taking a $1.5 million bribe from a local contractor, Jacob Kiferbaum, who wanted the contract to build a new hospital in the Northwest Chicago suburbs. As a board member on the Illinois Hospital Facilities Planning Board (IHFP Board) Levine secured a "yes" vote to approve the hospital's application. Levine and Rezko planned to split the bribe.

But Levine testified it never would have happened without one man — Rezko — working behind the scenes to call the shots.

In a taped phone conversation played for the jury, Levine tells Jacob Kiferbaum: "We've never been in a better position than I'm in right now with such a tight control on the central apparatus." When asked what he meant by "central apparatus," Levine said, "the Governor's office."

In the same conversation, Levine later told Kiferbaum: "This guy (Rezko) is making decisions and he can get anything done that he wants done."

On the day the IHFP Board met in 2004 to vote on the new hospital's application, the board's chairman, Tom Beck, told Levine he still had reservations about the project and he intended to vote no. Levine said he immediately called Rezko at his office and asked Rezko to talk to Beck.

After speaking to Rezko, Beck agreed to vote in favor of the project. Levine then spoke to Rezko who demanded "the Mercy (hospital) deal is to be done today. If he (Beck) wants to resign, let him resign. No one is going to push me in a corner."

The board voted, 5-3, to approve the new hospital.

Levine's testimony is expected to last at least several more days, possibly through next week.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Wednesday, March 19
(12:05 p.m. ET)

Key government witness Stuart Levine is on stand for a second day. (See previous posting to learn about Levine's drug history.)

There's no hiding the fact Levine and Tony Rezko were close friends. The two businessmen shared a private plane to Washington, D.C., to attend a White House holiday reception with President Bush in December 2003, but that's not all.

They also spent time together during family trips to expensive resorts in Mexico and attended black-tie gala events in Chicago. The rest of their time was spent in closed-door meetings at Rezko's Chicago office discussing how the two men could benefit financially from "illegal deals," bribes and kickbacks, Levine says.

During Levine's testimony today, Levine said Rezko told him, "All major decisions made in the governor's office were cleared by Mr. (Lon) Monk (Gov. Rod Blagojevich's chief of staff) through Mr. Rezko."

Levine says Rezko told him he had a long and close relationship with Blagojevich.

"He said he had great hopes for Governor Blagojevich, and hoped he would run for president," Levine said.

Levine says after meeting with Rezko several times, he "told Mr. Rezko I was pleased to know him and thought we could do a lot of business together. There were deals — illegal deals — I could potentially bring to TRS (the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System Board) and the planning board," referring to the state Health Facilities Planning Board.

Levine says Rezko indicated he "would like to go forward." Levine also said, "Rezko said to me anything I do at TRS he will be a partner in," meaning any money-making deals Levine made at TRS, Rezko would share it with him.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Tuesday, March 18
(8:18 p.m. ET)

Stuart Levine, the U.S. Attorney's Office key witness against Tony Rezko, took the stand late this afternoon. Levine, a businessman and prominent Illinois Republican, is expected to provide the clearest picture of how deep Rezko's involvement was in a "pay-to-play" kickback scheme aimed at lining Levine and Rezko's pockets with millions.

During the first few minutes of his testimony, Levine explained his plea agreement with the government. Levine pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges against him and agreed to testify against Rezko. In return, Levine expects to reduce his prison sentence dramatically, possibly serving only 5 1/2 years in prison, instead of a possible life sentence.

Levine has a dark past that includes years of drug abuse, and the prosecution wasted no time asking Levine to describe it. Levine said he's experimented with drugs since 1972 and then listed the drugs he's taken: "LSD, marijuana, cocaine, Quaaludes, ecstasy," and most recently, he admitted to abusing crystal meth and the horse-tranquilizer, Ketamine.

Levine has never been charged with using or distributing drugs. Federal agents first began investigating Levine in 2004. Levine says he finally agreed to cooperate with the government in January 2006.

Levine later described his background, including his time spent at law school followed by work at two smaller Chicago corporate law firms. Levine then admitted to a six-year history beginning in 2002 of obtaining bribes and kickbacks from clients his firm was doing business with at the time.

Levine says he first met Tony Rezko at a friend's dinner party in November 2002, prior to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's getting elected. Levine recounted his conversation with Rezko, saying Rezko told Levine they had several "mutual friends" in Illinois.

Levine says the two started talking about a real estate deal to buy a commercial building in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood. The building included a podiatry clinic owned by the doctor who was throwing the dinner party. There was one problem: The building had gone through the sale process before, but the deal didn't close, so there was a second closing in the works.

Levine voiced his concern and said he told Rezko: "If there was a problem created by a second closing I would not be interested in purchasing the building." Levine said Rezko told him he "would cure the problem" that was holding up the second closing on the building.

Stuart Levine will be back on the stand tomorrow. His testimony could last several days.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(3:28 p.m. ET)

On the stand, witness No. 15 for the prosecution, Illinois Teachers' Retirement System (TRS) board member, Molly Phalen.

Phalen is a former sixth-grade teacher and president of the Rockford (Ill.) Education Association. She has served on the TRS Board since 1997. Phalen explained the makeup of the TRS Board, which includes four elected board members — all teachers — and six appointed members picked by the governor's office. The president of the TRS Board is by law always the current Illinois state education superintendent.

Phalen testified that the appointed board members, including Stuart Levine, (the alleged co-conspirator with defendant Tony Rezko) typically aligned their votes when voting to approve or reject anyone who was recommended to serve on the TRS Board.

She recalled one TRS Board meeting in August 2001 when the board planned to interview a finalist for their executive director position. During that meeting, Phalen says, "out of the blue" Levine nominated someone else to serve as executive director.

"I was extremely angry about it. We had a process in place and a search committee, and we were tossing them (the finalists) aside." The board ultimately voted 6-4 in favor of Levine's nominee. When asked what she thought about the vote, Phalen said, "I thought it was very much being railroaded right through."

During cross-examination, Phalen was asked by the defense, "Is it fair to say you don't like Mr. Levine very much?"

Her answer: "Yes."

The defense then asked, "Is it fair to say Mr. Levine didn't respect your views on the TRS Board?"

Phalen replied: "That's accurate. ... He definitely had a condescending attitude (toward me)."

Despite the trial subject — Rezko — the Chicago businessman and political fundraiser's name has surfaced only once so far during Phalen's testimony: when the defense attorney asked if she knew or had ever met the defendant. She replied "no."

The Rezko defense team is making the case that TRS Board member Stuart Levine — not Rezko — was the mastermind behind most of the decisions the board made regarding who served on the board and later, with which investment firms the board invested millions of dollars, money earmarked for Illinois public school teachers once they retire.

The timeframe for Phalen's testimony focuses on 2001-02. It is significant because Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was not elected until November 2002, the same time the government says Rezko became a significant player with the alleged "pay-to-play" scheme.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Monday, March 17
(5:40 p.m. ET)

Witness Sheldon Pekin testified he was the middle man for a lucrative investment by a state board that lined the pockets of one of Tony Rezko's good friends.

Today, the jury in the Tony Rezko public corruption trial heard two taped phone calls, between Sheldon Pekin and Illinois Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board member, Stuart Levine.

During those conversations, Levine's voice sounded noticeably panicked because Pekin had yet to deliver the second of two checks to Tony's friend, Joe Aramanda, for $125,000.

Pekin acted as the "finder" in a deal to get the Illinois Teachers Retirement System (TRS) to invest $50 million into a private equity firm, Glencoe Capitol.

Pekin spoke with Levine several times to talk about the deal and how Pekin should split his finder's fee with one of Rezko's business associates.

Pekin wrote two checks to Aramanda totaling $250,000. The first check, $125,000, was delivered to Aramanda in March 2004. The second check was scheduled to be delivered in July 2004. In April 2004, Aramanda called Pekin and said, "You owe me money?" Pekin responded, "Did Christmas come early this year?"

Pekin said the original agreement was Aramanda would get his second check in July. Later that day Pekin received a phone call from Levine. "He was very mad," he said.

During the call Levine told Pekin, "If we lose this deal and don't get it don't today then we can't do business with them (Rezko, etc.) anymore. It must be finished today, otherwise we're f——d."

Pekin testified that Levine was referring to Tony Rezko when he used the word "them." During the same phone call Levine later told Pekin, "if we don't get it (the deal) done today then, uh, uh, Tony's (Rezko) not going to do business any more like that." Pekin ended up giving Joe Aramanda the second check, $125,000, and never saw or spoke to him again after that.

Pekin had to cut his testimony short because of health issues. Pekin, 72, is confined to a wheelchair because he suffers from Parkinson's disease. After the lunch break, Pekin testified for about 30 minutes when he stopped to take his medication, then about 15 minutes later he was excused for the day. Pekin will return Tuesday morning to continue his testimony.

The 13th witness to take the stand is Greg Turk. Turk is the Director of Equity Investments for the Illinois Teachers Retirement System, a position he's had since June 2004.

TRS manages the Illinois teachers pension fund. (All retired Illinois teachers get money from this fund, except for Chicago city teachers) Turk explained the tedious process TRS staff goes through to decide which private investment firms should be recommended to the TRS board for approval. The TRS board approves or rejects each recommendation.

It is possible the government's key witness, Levine, who will testify against Rezko, could take the stand later Tuesday, but there is no guarantee.

Rezko is on trial for mail and wire fraud, bribery, money laundering and attempted extortion. Rezko is accused of trying to influence state officials and seek payments from investment firms in order to ensure favorable decisions from two Illinois state boards, benefiting Rezko and Levine financially.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(1:50 p.m. ET)

This morning, former member to the Illinois Hospital Facilities Planning Board Annamarie York testified she had no knowledge of behind-the-scene conversations taking place between IHFP Board Chairman Tom Beck, board member Stuart Levine and Tony Rezko, about how to approve the application to build a new hospital (Mercy Hospital) in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

York testified the hospital's application was "negative" so she voted against it. She described the infamous IHFP board meeting on April 21, 2004, when the planning board voted to approve the new Mercy Hospital. She described how one board member voted "pass," then after talking in private to Stuart Levine, changed his vote to "yes."

When she was asked if she had known of a back-room deal where someone was going receive a kickback in return for a bribe regarding the hospital, what would she do, she replied: "One it's wrong, but two, if I knew something was going on, I'd want to remove myself from the situation."

During cross-examination, Rezko's defense attorney drilled York about the fact that she never met Rezko, did not know him, and tried to show Rezko never tried to influence her any of her votes on the board.

Now on the stand is Sheldon Pekin. He's a 72-year-old retiree, confined to a wheelchair because he has Parkinson's disease.

Pekin acted as the "finder" in a deal to get the Illinois Teachers Retirement System (TRS) to invest $50 million in Glencoe Capital, a Chicago private equity firm.

Pekin spoke with TRS board member Stuart Levine several times to talk about the deal and how Pekin could split his finder's fee. Pekin says he expected to receive $750,000 as a finder's fee for his work, 1.5 percent of the equity put up for Glencoe Capital.

But Pekin only received $375,000. When he told this to Levine, Levine "was not very happy about it. He was very upset." Pekin volunteered to reduce his share of the finder's fee share from half to a third. Levine directed Pekin to issue portion of his finder's fee to Joe Aramanda — a businessman who was good friends with Tony Rezko.

Pekin paid Aramanda $250,000. As part of the transaction, a contract was drafted between Pekin and Aramanda in an attempt to hide any wrongdoing.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Thursday, March 13
(2:34 p.m. ET)

Witness #10, Dr. Imad Almanseer, currently chairman of the Pathology at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., is now on the stand. He was a board member on IHFPB, between August 2003 and May 2004, and a good friend of Tony Rezko. Almanseer invested $500,000 in Rezko's business in the late 1990s.

Rezko got Almanseer appointed to serve on IHFPB in 2003. He testified that he later wanted to get his money back from Rezko and eventually he did get $800,000 back from Rezko in the fall of 2005.

———————————————————————-

Witness Tom Beck is still on the stand being cross examined by defense. This will probably last until the lunch break. Defense is trying to prove that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration had an invested interest in seeing the Mercy Hospital deal get passed. Five Illinois state department heads wrote letters to the Illinois Department of Health supporting the Mercy application.

Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert's name briefly surfaced during testimony. Defense attorney Joe Duffy made reference to a letter Hastert had written in support of a Bolingbrook, Ill., hospital application. Beck testified "yes, Dennis Hastert wrote a letter. Applicants would typically get as much support as they could and get letters from support from politicians."

The next witness could be IHFPB member Dr. Almanseer — a good friend of Rezko's who voted in favor of the Mercy Hospital application in 2004. He was one of the five necessary "yes" votes to approve the project.

No schedule is out yet for when Stuart Levine may take the stand, but it could be next week. When he does its going to be a circus here.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Wednesday, March 12
(4:30 p.m. ET)

During the defense's cross examination of Tom Beck, they displayed a 2003 memo/e-mail again that was sent to the governor's general counsel referencing Obama and other Illinois state lawmakers who "worked closely" with other political movers and shakers to draft new legislation, rewriting the Illinois Hospital Facilities Planning Act. (Passed in June 2003)

As Defense attorney Joe Duffy read the list of names in the memo, he said: "These are all the heavy hitters in Illinois, is that right?"

Beck replied: "Some of them."

Then Duffy proceeded to read the names listed in the memo again (state House Speaker Mike Madigan, Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, Republican leader Tom Cross), when he got to Obama's name he said, "Then you have some other guy called Obama on there, is that right?"

Beck replied, "Yes."

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(3:43 p.m. ET)

Two days before an Illinois state board voted to approve an application to build a new Illinois hospital, two board members discussed how they were going to secure a yes vote, following instructions from Chicago businessman, Tony Rezko.

Phone calls provided by FBI wiretaps reveal personal conversations between Illinois hospitals facilities board chair, Tom Beck, and board member, Stuart Levine.

In one phone conversation, Beck tells Levine: "I got the marching orders. ... And our boy (Rezko) wants to help them (Mercy hospital)."

Beck also tells Levine the application for Mercy Hospital is not likely to get approved because "the whole report is negative, everywhere," and, as Beck testified, the application did not meet the required criteria set forth by the Board.

Beck explains how the IHFP Board can extend the deadline for Mercy Hospital's application if they provide additional information to the board and "clean up the report. They should clean it up the best they can."

Levine then asks Beck, "How should they clean up the negatives?"

Beck proceeds to give Levine suggestions on how Mercy could change its application report to make it more complete and therefore more likely to get approval from the board.

Beck later says to Levine: "We need to cover ourselves. I don't want you or me to be sitting out on a limb for this."

Beck also testified to other phone conversations he had with Tony Rezko about Mercy hospitals application. Beck said he spoke to Rezko on the phone two days prior to the board's vote.

During that conversation, Beck said, "Tony heard Mercy Hospital was coming up for its second review before the IHFPB and he had heard this application was better than the first time. I told him I thought it was better but still shouldn't be approved by the board.

"Tony said, well take another look at it, so I did." Beck says, "this was the first time Tony and I disagreed about a project and I thought he would listen to me more and go with my recommendation," regarding Mercy.

Rezko is accused of arranging a $1 million bribe from the proposed hospital's contractor, in exchange for securing a yes vote by the IHFP Board. Rezko is also charged with 15 counts of fraud, (mail fraud and wire fraud), money laundering and attempted extortion.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Tuesday, March 11
(7:57 p.m. ET)

This afternoon the jury heard testimony from Chicago attorney Anne Murphy. Murphy is the former chief legal counsel for the Illinois Department of Public Health. She also served as general counsel to the Illinois Hospitals and Facilities Planning Board (IHFPB) from 2003 to 2005.

The IHFPB is responsible for approving applications for construction or expansion of Illinois hospitals. Prosecutors say politically connected Chicago businessmen Tony Rezko and Stuart Levine orchestrated a bribe to get paid $1 million from a hospital's contractor in exchange for a guaranteed approval from the IHFPB. Approval required five of nine board members to vote yes.

During her testimony this afternoon, Murphy described the board meeting on April 21, 2004, in which the IHFPB voted in favor of an application to build a brand new hospital in Crystal Lake (known as Mercy Hospital and Medical Center). Several 100 people attended the public meeting.

Murphy said she and others from Illinois Department of Health officials had serious concerns over the proposed hospital because it did not meet some of the required criteria set by the Illinois Hospital Facilities Planning Act. (Legislation that then-state Sen. Barack Obama was instrumental in passing in 2003, when he served as chairman of the Senate Health Care Committee).

After voicing her concerns at the April board meeting, Murphy testified she asked IHFPB Chairman Tom Beck, "How about deferring the (hospital) application to a subsequent meeting?" Beck "did not respond," she said.

Murphy later described what happened once board members began voting. When it came time for the board chairman to cast his vote he said, "Where are we at?" He then walked over to board member Stuart Levine and talked to him in private so no one could hear them. Beck then went back to his seat.

At that point Levine got up and walked over to another board member, Dr. Allamanseer, and whispered something in his ear for a few minutes. Then Levine sat down in his seat.

Beck then proceeded with the meeting by voting "yes" for the project, followed by Allamanseer changing his vote from "pass" to "yes," securing the five required votes to approve the new Mercy hospital's application.

Murphy described the audience reaction in the room as an "audible gasp" of disbelief.

After the board meeting Murphy said she approached Levine. "I expressed to him my concern about the Mercy (hospital) application and how it was passed." Murphy said, Levine "shrugged his shoulders and said sometimes you have to be a good soldier."

After the successful vote Levine and Beck left the meeting and were going to meet with "someone," according to Murphy's testimony. Even though Murphy didn't say who that "someone" was, it was implied it was likely defendant Rezko.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(3:56 p.m. ET)

Did an Illinois hospital need to be built to serve a growing community or did it get a green light because of a $1 million bribe orchestrated by two politically connected businessmen, Tony Rezko and Stuart Levine?

That's the question at the center of Tuesday's testimony in the public corruption trial of Tony Rezko. Rezko is charged with fraud, money laundering, aiding and abetting bribery and attempted extortion.

The acting supervisor of project review for the Illinois Department of Health, Donald Jones, says the original application submitted in 2003 to build a new hospital and medical center in Crystal Lake, Ill., did not meet nine of the 18 required criteria.

"It's common for an applicant to not meet one of the criteria," Jones testified.

In December 2003, the Illinois Hospital Facilities and Planning Board (IHFPB) issued an "intent to deny" the hospital's application. The hospital resubmitted its application in 2004 with changes, including lowering the overall cost of the project, by $29,000, to meet the required criteria.

In April 2004, the IHFPB met to vote on the approval of the new hospital. Approval required five of the nine board members to vote yes. Jones testified that during the vote "board member Stuart Levine got up from his seat and whispered something to Dr. Alamanseer," another board member. "Then Dr. Alamanseer changed his vote from no to yes." The hospital project was ultimately approved.

During cross examination, Rezko's defense attorney, Bill Ziegelmueller, questioned Jones in depth about the required criteria reviewed by the Illinois Department of Health and IHFPB, before voting to build the proposed hospital.

Ziegelmueller made a point to present evidence showing the overwhelming support for the new hospital from state leaders and the community where the new hospital would be built. Jones testified that the Illinois Health Department received nearly 2,000 letters regarding the project.

"Roughly 1,200 letters expressed support, 700 were opposed." Jones said. "It is significant, but not the largest amount" of letters his department has received regarding a project.

Rezko's attorney also showed the court five letters from state department heads, all of whom voiced support for the hospital.

The defense team is trying to prove the IHFPB voted to approve the new hospital based on the required criteria and not based on any alleged bribe or kickback scheme involving Rezko.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(1:35 p.m. ET)

This afternoon could get interetsing if prosecutors get to witness Tom Beck. He is the former chairman of the Illinois Hospitals Facilities planning board. The government has said they plan to play four phone calls for the jury. They are said to be conversations between Beck and board member Stuart Levine, where Beck is "relaying instructions" from Tony Rezko to Levine.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Monday, March 10
(6:33 p.m. ET)

Tony Rezko's defense attorney wants to make it clear that in no way did the memo/e-mail entered as evidence today in court imply that Obama or other Illinois state lawmakers were "consulted" about any who should or should not be recoomended to serve on a state hospitals planning board.

Defense attorney Joe Duffy says the memo shows that "Obama was one of the sponsors of the SB 1332, (designed to restructure the board). The memo had nothing to do with any recommendations." Obama and the rest of the lawmakers named in the memo voted in favor of SB 1332 in May 2004.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(5:18 p.m. ET)

Not much new to report this afternoon. The same witness who testified before lunch is still on the stand undergoing cross examination. Her name is Jill Hayden, the former director of Boards and Commissions for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office. She's explaining the lengthy, drawn-out process someone must go through before he/she can be approved to serve on a state board.

A few jurors periodically nodded off earlier today — can't really blame them, this testimony is a snoozer.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(1:57 p.m. ET)

Sen. Barack Obama's name surfaced briefly during day two of testimony in the public corruption trial of Chicago businessman and political fundraiser Tony Rezko.

This morning, Rezko's defense team revealed an e-mail sent from an associate of David Wilhelm, the former campaign manager for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, to the governor's former general counsel, Susan Lichtenstein. The memo states that Obama — then an Illinois state senator —consulted with other state lawmakers about who should serve as board members on the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board (IHFPB).

The IHFPB oversees the construction and expansion of Illinois hospitals. It's one of two state boards Tony Rezko is accused of trying to steal money from in what prosecutors call a "pay-to-play" scheme. Rezko never served on either board, but today two former employees with the governors office testified Rezko recommended dozens of people to those boards who eventually were appointed by the governor to serve. Prosecutors say Rezko's plan was to recommend people he knew would conspire with him to accept bribes and kickbacks from companies doing business with the boards.

The other state board in question is the Teachers Retirement System, (TRS) that pays out pensions to Illinois teachers.

Witness Jill Hayden, the former Illinois Boards and Commissions Director, testified about a phone conversation she had with Rezko about one of the people he recommended to serve as a board member on TRS. Hayden said that Rezko told her, "We need to move on Stuart Levine," which she understood to mean, we need to get Levine approved. Hayden said she told Rezko that she needed to get the governor's chief of staff, Lon Monk, to sign off on approving Levine. At that point Rezko "laughed at me and said go ahead." When Hayden contacted Monk she said he told her to go ahead with the approval of Stuart Levine to the TRS board.

A well known Illinois Republican, prosecutors claim Levine used his status to work closely with Rezko behind closed doors developing their pay-to-play scheme.

Levine was also charged with fraud in 2006, but has since pleaded guilty and is now the prosecution's star witness against Rezko in his trial.

Rezko is charged with 15 counts of fraud, as well as money laundering, bribery and attempted extortion.

The trial is expected to last three to four months.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

Thursday, March 6
(6:46 p.m. ET)

During his opening statement to the jury, Tony Rezko's attorney described his client as a family man who came to the U.S. from Syria to pursue the American dream, eventually achieving that dream as a successful businessman.

Rezko is on trial in federal court accused of 15 counts of fraud, money laundering, aiding and abetting bribery and attempted extortion of a Hollywood movie producer, Tom Rosenberg (Million Dollar Baby).

Rezko was indicted in October 2006, accused of soliciting kickbacks from companies seeking state pension business. Rezko has a strong reputation in Illinois for being a political fixer. He's donated thousands of dollars to Illinois political campaigns, including U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Lead defense attorney, Joe Duffy, says Rezko has a long list of friends in Illinois politics including Obama. Duffy told the jury, "Tony Rezko met Barack Obama when Obama was a student at Harvard law school and he (Rezko) offered him a job with his business," which Obama declined. "Tony was a friend and supported Obama through the years."

By far the bulk of what Duffy said focused on one man; Stuart Levine. Levine was indicted with Rezko but has since plead guilty to corruption charges and will testify against Rezko during the trial, as the government's star witness.

The problem — Levine has a dark past including years of serious drug abuse. "He has two decades of drug use ... cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy and Special K — a horse tranquilizer — were his drugs of choice." Duffy told jurors they will hear testimony about how Levine would "lock himself in his office to snort coke and crystal meth," and spent $100,000 on drugs.

Essentially, Rezko's attorneys are trying to convince the jury that Levine was the bad guy, cutting fraudulent deals behind closed doors while Rezko did nothing wrong.

The first witness to take the stand was Kelly Glynn, the former campaign finance director for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign in 2002. (Currently she is the campaign finance director for the DSCC)

She testified that Tony Rezko was a top fundraiser for Blagojevich, describing him as one of the top three contributors to the governor's campaign in 2002.

Other witnesses include an Illinois FBI Agent and the former general counsel to Gov. Blagojevich.

The jury of 11 women and seven men appeared engaged, taking notes throughout the testimony. Jurors have the day off tomorrow because the judge announced court is not in session Friday. Testimony resumes Monday morning at 9:15 a.m. CT.

Rezko's family filled two rows in the courtroom. After court let out for the day Rezko's wife talked with family in the hallway. During a phone conversation she could be heard saying, "It was a good first day, a bit long but good. I'm exhausted. But I'll be here for the next 10 weeks."

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(3:36 p.m. ET)

Barack Obama's name was mentioned twice during defense attorney Joe Duffy's opening statement.

Duffy told the jury that Rezko had many friends in Illinois politics, too many to name. But he did name Obama and said how Rezko met the Democratic presidential candidate at Harvard Law School and how he offered Obama a job.

The first government witness to come to the stand was Kelly Glynn, former campaign finance director for Gov. Blagojevich's 20002 campaign. She is now the finance director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

(2:12 p.m. ET — Summary During a Lunch Break)

Opening statements in the federal corruption trial of Chicago developer Tony Rezko started two hours late because one of the 18 jurors did not show up to court on time.

The jury consists of 11 women and seven men, 12 jurors and 6 alternates. They began the trial by listening to opening statements from U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton.

Rezko was indicted in October 2006 accused of soliciting kickbacks from companies seeking state pension business. Rezko has a strong reputation in Illinois for being a political fixer. He's donated thousands of dollars to Illinois political campaigns, including Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama. Obama's campaign says it has returned all of the money, approximately $150,000, donated by Rezko.

Hamilton told the jury, "This case is about the violation of public trust. ... This is a pay-to-play scheme. The government will prove to you that Rezko and his insiders' decisions were corrupted and were not made in the best interest of the public. They tried to control millions of dollars."

The government used detailed visual aides to show the jury how Rezko — "the man behind the curtain pulling the strings" — and his insider friend, Stuart Levine (who will testify against Rezko during the trial), attempted to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into their own pockets.

After about an hour, Hamilton wrapped up by saying: "Over the next few weeks we will present you with evidence to prove the decisions being made were made in the best interest of Mr. Rezko and Mr. Levine, evidence that will leave you with the only possible verdict, guilty as charged on all counts."

During the lunch break, jurors and Rezko's family members scattered throughout the federal courthouse, some going to the second floor cafeteria for lunch, others going outside to get a breath of fresh air. While walking through the lobby of the courthouse, Rezko's daughter was taken aback by the dozen or so television cameras assembled. She said to her brother, "Oh, snap!"

Rezko's attorney, Joe Duffy, will give his opening statement to the jury after lunch, beginning at 2:15 p.m. ET.

(12:57 p.m. ET)

Opening statements are underway. Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton is speaking now, referring to Rezko as "the man behind the curtain pulling the strings"

"This case is about violation of public trust," she told jurors.

(10:17 a.m. ET)

The media was just informed one juror is missing and opening statements will be delayed about an hour.

Approximately 30 members of the media are inside the courtroom (including FOX News). All other media — at least another 30 — are in an overflow room.

Rezko's family and friends are taking up two full rows in the courtroom on the defense side (16 people total).

(9:45 a.m. ET)

Line to get in the courtroom is now 40-50+ deep.

Bailiff handed out tickets to first 40 people in line to reserve a seat in the courtroom. The rest will have to sit in the media overflow room upstairs on the 17th floor, where there is an audio and video feed of the trial.

Tony Rezko's family members will sit in the second row on the defense side of the courtroom. At least 10 relatives are here, including Rezko's wife and children.

Opening statements are slated to start at 10:00 a.m. ET, but will probably be delayed considering everyone has yet to be let inside the courtroom.

(8:45 a.m. ET)

The line of people waiting to get into Judge St. Eve's courtroom is at least 20 people deep.

— FOX News producer Marla Cichowski provided this update

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/06/04/courtroom-wire-notes-from-tony-rezko-corruption-trial