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Prosecutors allege donation to Blagojevich bought board seat
By Rob Olmstead | Daily Herald Staff

*Antoin "Tony" Rezko

 

Gov. Rod Blagojevich

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/25/2008 9:19 PM | Updated: 2/27/2008 8:22 PM

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Government prosecutors say an Elmhurst banker's seat on a state banking board was purchased with a $50,000 donation to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign.

The government alleges that Joseph P. Cacciatore of Winnetka approached former Blagojevich adviser and donor Antoin "Tony" Rezko about getting his brother Phil Cacciatore of Elmhurst a seat on the state's banking board.

"Joseph Cacciatore -- Phil Cacciatore's brother and a member of the Illinois State Board of Investment -- allegedly approached Rezko about the appointment for Phil," wrote U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve Monday in a ruling allowing the allegation to become part of the trial.

"Rezko responded that a $50,000 contribution to Governor Blagojevich would help his brother's chances of the board appointment," St. Eve continued.

St. Eve's use of the governor's name is the first official identification of who was previously known as "Public Official A." Blagojevich has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Joseph Cacciatore and Rezko agreed that Joseph Cacciatore would make a $25,000 donation on his own, while the other $25,000 would be filtered to the governor through Rezko's Rezmar Corp., the government alleges.

Campaign finance records show that Joseph Cacciatore made a $25,000 donation to Friends of Blagojevich on Sept. 24, 2002, but show no corresponding donation in that amount made by Rezmar to the governor.

The allegation will be attested to in court by former Rezko business partner Daniel Mahru. However, Joseph Cacciatore has submitted an affidavit denying Mahru's version of events, St. Eve noted. Still, the believability of witnesses will be left for the jury to decide, she said.

Neither Joseph nor Phil Cacciatore could be reached for comment Monday night.

"This is the first that we've heard of this and (we) certainly have no knowledge of this," said Abby Ottenhoff, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Phil Cacciatore is a senior vice president of Lakeside Bank, a bank with over $500 million in assets with roots on Chicago's Near South Side.

Rezko did catch a break in another St. Eve ruling Monday, however. The judge ruled that a $809,000 payment by investment firm Bear Stearns to former Republican National Committeeman Bob Kjellander after a state bond deal will not be put before the jury. The government alleges Rezko directed that money to Kjellander and then had Kjellander pay $600,000 of it to Joseph Aramanda. Aramanda, in turn, divvied the cash up between four unnamed people, the government alleges.

St. Eve agreed with a defense contention that that allegation "is a needless and lengthy detour that will result in a mini-trial of Rezko's relationship with four individuals who otherwise have nothing to do with this case and would otherwise not testify."

Over the weekend, Rezko's attorneys submitted filings asking the judge to allow evidence of key witness Stuart Levine's "secret" relationship and lifestyle. Details of that lifestyle were blacked out in court filings. Levine is the key witness against Rezko, and Rezko attorney Joseph Duffy says the details should be admitted because it was fear that lifestyle would be revealed that led him to cooperate with federal agents.

Duffy contends federal agents promised to do everything they could to keep that secret under wraps, and benefits witnesses receive in exchange for testifying are fair game, he argued.

St. Eve has already once refused Duffy's request but said she would hear further arguments on the matter.

St. Eve also said Monday that Rezko schemed to squeeze Hollywood producer and Chicago businessman Thomas Rosenberg for a $2 million payoff or a $1.5 million campaign contribution

Prosecutors have said the money was for Public Official A. The money was to go to Blagojevich, St. Eve said in court papers. Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff denied Monday that the governor knew anything about the alleged conversation between Rezko and Rosenberg.

"As we've said about this matter before, we don't know anything about the conversation described in the document. The governor was never involved in such a conversation," Ottenhoff said in a statement.