- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

CHICAGO (AP) - A prominent fundraiser for Sen. Barack Obama and Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich was convicted Wednesday of fraud and money laundering after a high-profile federal trial provided an unusually detailed glimpse of the pay-to-play politics that has made Illinois infamous.

Antoin “Tony” Rezko showed no emotion as the jury found him guilty on 16 of 24 counts, including scheming to get kickbacks from money management firms seeking state business and a contractor who wanted to build a hospital in northern Illinois. He was acquitted of charges that included attempted extortion.

The nine-week trial included explosive testimony about drug-fueled parties involving the government’s star witness and accusations that the governor discussed a state job for a donor after the donor handed over a $25,000 check for Mr. Blagojevich’s campaign.

Testimony barely touched on the relationship between Mr. Obama and Rezko, who has known the Democratic presidential candidate since he entered politics and was involved in a 2005 real-estate deal with him. Most of the focus was on shakedowns prosecutors said Rezko arranged when he was a top adviser to Mr. Blagojevich.

Neither Mr. Blagojevich nor Mr. Obama has been accused of wrongdoing.

Rezko’s bond was immediately revoked Wednesday and he was taken into federal custody until his Sept. 3 sentencing.

“Mr. Rezko, on his own, decided that if he was convicted he wanted to immediately start serving his sentence,” said defense attorney Joseph Duffy, who added that he will appeal.

Rezko’s defense attorneys maintained that the government had little evidence tying him to corruption and that the star witness, admitted political fixer Stuart P. Levine, was not credible because years of drug use damaged his memory.

Mr. Levine was a member of a state board that decided which hospitals got built and was on a panel that decided which investment firms got allocations from a $40 billion fund that pays the pensions of retired teachers.

Mr. Levine testified that Rezko, drawing on the political clout he developed as a Blagojevich fundraiser, stacked both boards with members who could be relied upon to follow orders when big-money decisions surfaced. Prosecutors said he used that clout to shake down companies and individuals hoping for state business for $7 million in kickbacks.

While Mr. Obama’s name rarely surfaced during testimony, the case drew attention to Mr. Obama’s relationship with Rezko, a man Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton derided in one televised debate as a “slum landlord.”

Rezko, a real-estate developer and fast-food entrepreneur, had been friendly with Mr. Obama for years, even offering him a job after he finished law school. Mr. Obama turned down the offer, but a political friendship developed.

Rezko donated more than $21,000 to Mr. Obama and raised far more for his campaigns in Illinois, though not his presidential bid.

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