Ex-Illinois official says he got job from Blagojevich after making $50,000 campaign donation

CHICAGO (AP) — A former state finance official testified Thursday that he got his job from Rod Blagojevich after contributing $50,000 to the former Illinois governor's campaign.

Ali Ata, former executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority, testified during Blagojevich's corruption thrial that he took a check for $25,000 to a meeting with the governor in 2003 and Blagojevich brought up the possibility that Ata might get a job with the state.

"The check was in an envelope lying on the table," Ata testified.

Ata said he didn't get his job with the Finance Authority until after donating another $25,000 to the Blagojevich campaign a year later. He said that after making the donation he ran into Blagojevich at a fundraising event and the governor said he would be getting a job with the state and "it had better be one where you can make some money."

Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat President Barack Obama gave up following his November 2008 election. He has also pleaded not guilty to plotting to launch a racketeering scheme using the powers of the governor's office.

His brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell the Senate seat and to plotting to illegally pressure a racetrack owner for a $100,000 campaign contribution.

Much of the testimony in the first two weeks of the projected three to four month trial has come from witnesses who took the stand two years ago at the trial of Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko. Rezko was convicted of planning to launch a $7 million kickback scheme and is awaiting sentence.

Ata testified at both trials that the exchange of the $25,000 campaign check took place in a conference room in Rezko's Chicago office.

In other testimony, Jill Hayden, who was director of boards and commissions under Blagojevich, said Rezko and another fundraiser, Christopher Kelly, held enormous influence in the former governor's administration.

She said they managed to get their friends five of the nine seats on the board that governed the Illinois Finance Authority. That came in handy for Ata when he was nominated for the post of executive director of the authority, which provides public financing to businesses, nonprofit groups and local government agencies throughout the state.

By law, Blagojevich had to nominate two candidates for the job, but Hayden said the other person nominated "was not a serious candidate" and the majority of the board favored Ata.

Chicago attorney Joseph Cari testified that on a 2003 plane ride to a fundraiser in New York, Blagojevich told him he thought governors have an advantage over senators in seeking the presidency because they could get campaign money out of companies seeking business from the state.

Cari, a former national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Rezko and Kelly dangled the possibility that he could get law business and other fees from the state if he would put his fundraising contacts to work for a possible Blagojevich run for the White House.

"I was startled," he said. He said he told the two men no.

But Cari admitted that he bowed to pressure from Stuart Levine, a major Blagojevich campaign contributor and influential member of the board that governs a $40 billion fund that pays the pensions of Illinois teachers not in Chicago.

Levine wanted him to call a Virginia-based asset management firm and warn them they would lose an $80 million allocation from the fund if they didn't hire a consultant they had never met. Cari said that when the head of the management firm asked why he had a simple answer: "That's the way they do it in Illinois."

The firm didn't hire the consultant but did get its allocation, he testified.

Meanwhile, Cari has pleaded guilty to extortion and is cooperating with the government in hopes of a lenient sentence. Levine has pleaded guilty to taking part in the $7 million kickback scheme with Rezko and is awaiting sentence as well.