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Prosecution: Rezko consumed with enriching himself, friends
By David Beery | Daily Herald Staff

Tony Rezko

 

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Published: 5/12/2008 1:25 PM | Updated: 5/12/2008 7:38 PM

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Prosecutors in Antoin "Tony" Rezko's corruption trial went deep into their closing arguments Monday morning before mentioning their star witness' name.

But when Rezko's defense attorney got his turn late in the day, he couldn't wait to turn the topic to Stuart Levine.

Rezko attorney Joseph Duffy, who will complete his closing arguments Tuesday morning, unleashed a blistering hourlong assault on Levine -- his drug use, spending, lifestyle and, most of all, what Duffy called his penchant for lying.

Rezko, a former key fund-raiser for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, faces corruption charges ranging from mail and wire fraud to extortion and money laundering.

Prosecutors say that from the time Blagojevich took office in 2003 until federal agents intervened in May 2004, Rezko and Levine planned to extort about $8 million from individuals and firms seeking business with the state.

Rezko, they say, stacked the Teachers Retirement System board with members -- led by Levine -- who could allocate funds to investment firms willing to cough up kickbacks in return.

Referring to Levine's 15 days on the witness stand, Duffy told jurors: "Listen to the way he talks, the speed at which he talks, the stuttering. Some of these tapes (wiretapped phone calls played in court) are not even intelligible. And the bragging on the tapes; he's an egomaniac. Can you imagine what he must've been like in 2004, when he was under the influence?"

Duffy told jurors that Levine lied to friends and acquaintances alike.

"He lies to Steve Loren, who thought he was his best friend. He lies to (William) Cellini. He lies so much I don't think he knows when he's lying. It's that bad," Duffy said.

Duffy told jurors that every count against his client involved a criminal act by Levine. He said Rezko did more fundraising during 2003 and 2004 for St. Jude Children's Hospital and President Bush than he did for Blagojevich. He mocked the prosecution's portrayal of Rezko's clout within the administration, saying there was no record of a single phone call between Rezko and Blagojevich during the federal investigation of his client.

Duffy told jurors that prosecutors didn't explain how Rezko profited from the schemes Levine described because no money ever reached him.

"Who commits a bribe without getting the money?" Duffy asked rhetorically. "What is he, stupid? He's corrupt, but he's stupid?"

Levine's entire adult life, Duffy told jurors, "has been consumed by criminal activity and drug use."

Duffy told jurors that Levine lied when he told them he quit drugs cold turkey when federal agents showed up at his door in May 2004. Duffy said phone records show repeated calls to his suppliers during the next four months.

In order to convict his client, Duffy told jurors, they must find Levine "believable beyond a reasonable doubt. That's a difficult task."

During the government's closing arguments earlier Monday, Schar tried to inoculate Levine against the onslaught that everybody knew was coming.

"Let's be clear about Stuart Levine," Schar told jurors. "He is the embodiment of corruption. On top of that, he's arrogant and unlikable. That isn't the issue here. The issue is whether he's telling the truth."

Schar told jurors that Levine's incentive to testify truthfully was powerful: Without forthcoming testimony, Schar said, Levine doesn't get the U.S. attorney's recommendation for a reduced sentence for his own corruption conviction.

Schar told jurors that Rezko landed a spot in Gov. Rod Blagojevich's "kitchen cabinet" only because his fundraising prowess trumped his lack of government experience.

Once ensconced, Schar said, Rezko quickly became so consumed with enriching himself and his friends that he squeezed one party after another with total disregard as to the merits of the proposed transaction itself.

"He used power to benefit himself and his friends over the interests of the people of Illinois," Schar said during lengthy and detailed closing arguments.

Schar told jurors that their review of the evidence would show Rezko's concern for personal gain over good government time and time again. That, Schar said, stood in sharp contrast to defense attorneys' portrayal of Rezko, as the trial opened in March, as a public servant dedicated to good government.

Prosecutors are relying on a case that has many witnesses alluding to Rezko's connection but few direct implications. Schar asked jurors, in interpreting recorded phone conversations, to consider that Levine made his frequent references to Rezko's central role in various sham consulting schemes when he had no idea the government had tapped his phones.

When the trial resumes Tuesday, Duffy will complete his closing arguments. Prosecutors will offer their rebuttal and then Judge Amy St. Eve will instruct jurors, who could begin deliberations as early as Tuesday afternoon.