Daily Herald
Rezko could offer corroboration, or muddy case against Blagojevich
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 6/16/2010 8:49 AM | Updated: 6/16/2010 6:37 PM

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More and more in the Blagojevich corruption trial, it appears Tony Rezko is the linchpin to the government's case.

Last week Alonzo Monk, former best friend, chief of staff and fundraiser for Rod Blagojevich when he was governor, testified that he, Blagojevich and fellow fundraisers Rezko and Chris Kelly conspired to make money from state business. Monk charged that Rezko would basically serve as bag man until the money would be divided between the four after Blagojevich left office.

With the former governor fighting the charges, and Kelly dead by suicide last year, without Rezko it becomes a matter of who's telling the truth between Monk and Blagojevich, should he take the stand in his own defense.

But will Rezko testify?

Rezko was convicted in his own federal corruption case in 2008. He has not yet been sentenced, and reportedly was in talks with prosecutors after being moved from one prison to another last year.

Yet, he previously accused prosecutors of pressuring him to lie about Blagojevich, and observers tend to believe he would be a risky witness.

"The government will not call him," predicted Barrington Hills attorney Andrew Stoltmann, who's been following the case. "He is a bomb waiting to go off and the prosecutors are afraid he will blow up on them. I would be shocked if they used him."

Randall Samborn, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said he couldn't say at this point whether Rezko would be called to testify.

And on Wednesday, a witness corroborated some of Monk's statements, potentially diluting the need for Rezko's testimony on the key point of whether Blagojevich was profiting from the state deals.

Rezko friend and associate Joseph Aramanda testified that, while he was serving as an unwitting "intermediary" in a plot to kick back money on a teacher's pension bond sale in 2004, Rezko told him that he'd potentially be splitting fees with Monk, Kelly and Blagojevich. Aramanda testified he backed out of the deal.

Yet, Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam Jr. argued in opening statements that there is no direct money trail to the former governor.

"Follow the money," Adam urged jurors.

While directly implicated in many of the charges against Blagojevich, and convicted himself on 16 of 24 counts, Rezko had a clearly diminished role in the government's pretrial proffer laying out the case it expected to make against Blagojevich.

If called to the stand, Rezko could well turn out to be a hostile witness and a thorny person to handle on the stand. His attorney William Ziegelmueller did not respond to requests for comment.

"There's good news and there's bad news," said Chicago-Kent College of Law Professor Richard Kling. Rezko could conceivably confirm many of the charges made against Blagojevich. "At the same time," Kling added, "he wrote letters to the judge a year ago contending that the government was trying to coerce him into saying things that weren't true.

"That would be in the court record," Kling added, and would figure to draw a vicious counterattack from the defense if Rezko were brought into play. "And he's a wild card. Realistically, you don't know what he's going to say, and the cardinal rule No. 1 of lawyers is don't put witnesses on and ask them questions unless you know what they're going to say."

Still, prosecutors clearly have Rezko in the bullpen should they feel the need to draw on him - with, not coincidentally, a change-of-plea hearing scheduled in the case June 25 - just as defense attorneys have Blagojevich to put on the stand should they feel he's the last, best hope to exonerate himself.

Kling said that, to determine whether Rezko will testify, "you'd need a soothsayer rather than a lawyer."