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Beck testifies on Rezko's sway with board
By Rob Olmstead | Daily Herald Staff

Antonin "Tony" Rezko

 

Verna Sadock

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Published: 3/12/2008 1:34 PM | Updated: 3/13/2008 7:40 AM

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It was a day of some contradictions Wednesday in the trial of Antoin "Tony" Rezko Wednesday, with a wiretap recording seemingly incriminating the defendant, followed by the subject of the recording soft-pedaling that tape.

Thomas P. Beck, the former comptroller of Cook County, took the stand to talk about his role as the chairman of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board in 2004, when then-board member Stuart Levine, by his own admission, set up a crooked vote to approve the building of Mercy Hospital in Crystal Lake. Beck's testimony at times also seemed to conflict itself or left important questions unresolved.

Levine, who has pleaded guilty, had arranged a $1.5 million bribe from Jacob Kieferbaum, the proposed builder of the hospital, in exchange for Levine's 'yes' vote. Prosecutors allege Rezko was in on the bribe, and played a recording of Beck and Levine to try to establish that Rezko effectively controlled the planning board.

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On the tape, Beck can be heard telling Levine, "I've got the marching orders. … Our boy (Rezko) wants to help (Mercy)."

On the tape, Beck speaks definitively about Rezko's instructions.

"He wants Edwards down and Bolingbrook up," said Beck, referring to two other proposed hospital plans pending at the time. Edwards Hospital had been proposed for Plainfield while Hinsdale Hospital had been proposed for Bolingbrook.

But when it came time on the stand for Beck to characterize Rezko's influence over him, Beck said merely that Rezko asked to talk to him before each meeting in case there was a matter of interest to the Blagojevich administration before the board.

"He would tell me (his wishes), and (he said) I should tell the others," said Beck. By "others," Beck meant Stuart Levine, and Drs. Imad Almanaseer, Michel Malek and Fortunee Massuda, all appointees Beck understood to be friends of Rezko. Together, the five composed a majority of the board. Beck even went so far as to hand out index cards to the three doctors, with an arrow indicating up or down on the relevant vote, according to testimony.

Beck mentioned no quid pro quo ever enunciated by Rezko, but noted that when Blagojevich was elected, Beck approached Rezko with a $1,000 check for the governor's re-election fund, and in the same conversation asked to be reappointed to the planning board.

Rezko said only he'd see what he could do, Beck said.

Beck also couched his testimony in terms of Rezko telling him his opinion on various votes, never outright ordering him to vote one way or another.

In fact, said Beck, Beck once disagreed with Rezko on a vote and explained why he disagreed, ultimately convincing Rezko to change his mind.

But when it came time for their regular Monday call before the Mercy vote, Rezko stuck firm to his opinion, Beck said.

"It was the first of any (calls) that Tony and I disagreed on at the end of the conversation," said Beck.

Beck said he then called Levine on the matter the same day, April 19, 2004, and told Levine he thought the only way they could pass the Mercy plan was to delay the vote to give Mercy time to "clean up" their application, or address the problems with it. Levine then proposed several ways he thought they could clean the application up in time to vote that Wednesday, Beck said, but Beck continued to reject the idea as too transparent.

Beck also maintained on the stand that he continued to oppose passing the Mercy plan all the way up to the morning of the vote, but he also testified that he phoned Jeffrey Ladd, the lawyer for Mercy competitor Centegra, the night before the vote and told Ladd that the Mercy vote was going through. That would have only been possible with Beck's vote, or with the vote of one of the non-Rezko appointees, which tape recordings show Beck and Levine weren't sure they could get.

On the day of the vote, Beck testified, he told Levine he couldn't vote for Mercy. Levine then rounded up Rezko on the phone and handed it to Beck.

"I told Tony, 'This just isn't a good application,'" Beck testified. "He (Rezko) says, 'It's a lot better than it was.'"

Beck refused, telling Rezko "'You can take this job and shove it' … I said 'I'm going to resign.'"

Rezko replied that Beck should "do what you have to do."

But at the end of the conversation, Beck had shifted, telling Levine and Rezko if they could get four votes elsewhere, he might be their fifth, Beck testified. Beck did not explain why he changed his mind, although he did say that he thought "do what you have to do" was code from Rezko to tell him to vote for the project.

Why Beck didn't resign from what appeared to be a thankless job is unclear. Joseph Duffy, Rezko's attorney, artfully brought the matter up, pointing out that Beck, who was working for a non-paying board, was hauling himself in from his winter home in sunny California every other month and wading through boxes of documents for each meeting.

Beck testified he never took a bribe for his board votes, nor in his prior career as Cook County comptroller. However, he did receive immunity just before his testimony, because in the course of testifying, he admitted that he had engaged in illegal talks - such as the one with Jeffrey Ladd, the former Metra chairman and a representative for Centegra - with hospital representatives while their applications were pending.

Beck admitted that he had recommended Ladd hire his cousin, Chicago committeeman Ed Kelly, as a lobbyist. Beck said he told Ladd he might want to hire Kelly in an effort to lobby Rezko and convince Rezko to keep "politics out of the consideration."

Beck also testified when he first talked with Rezko about being on the board, Rezko asked him to keep Ed Kelly in mind for any lobbying work he might hear about.