Rezko wanted in Las Vegas over gambling debts

  • Antoin

    Antoin "Tony" Rezko

Published: 5/29/2008 9:56 AM | Updated: 5/29/2008 9:07 PM

As a Chicago jury deliberates Antoin "Tony" Rezko's fate on corruption charges, Las Vegas authorities slapped the prolific political insider with criminal charges tied to gambling debt, raising anew questions about conflicts of interest in state casino matters.

The former top fundraiser to Gov. Rod Blagojevich now faces a Las Vegas arrest warrant accusing him of bouncing $450,000 in checks for gambling debt at Caesars Palace and Bally's. An additional $331,000 in gambling debt at the Bellagio also came to light Thursday.

The charges come as a federal jury continues to deliberate 24 criminal counts against Rezko in Chicago. Prosecutors say the Wilmette businessman used his clout with Blagojevich to strong-arm millions of dollars in kickbacks from state contractors.

Whether or not he is found guilty, Rezko could eventually face extradition to Nevada on the check-bouncing charges. Plus, Rezko still faces federal charges in Chicago of loan fraud and a myriad of civil suits alleging shady business deals and unpaid debt.

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve took no action Thursday to revoke Rezko's bond. She did meet with Rezko's attorney, Joseph Duffy, who declined to comment.

Rezko remained free as the jury wrapped up its ninth day of deliberations. The jury is off today.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago declined comment.

The Las Vegas charges are the first public signs Rezko was a heavy gambler, and they influence the ongoing drama of Illinois' top corruption story on two fronts.

For one, the gambling debts shed some light on Rezko's finances, which he said in court were nearly depleted, despite having headed up huge business deals and raising millions of dollars for top politicians.

And Rezko's gambling debt adds fuel to conflict-of-interest allegations within the Blagojevich administration.

"This does nothing to assuage those concerns," said Jay Stewart, director of the Better Government Association.

Rezko's partner in fundraising for Blagojevich also faces massive gambling debts.

Chris Kelly, a close friend to the governor, was indicted this year on tax evasion, accused of hiding millions of dollars in debt to illegal bookies and casinos.

Rezko and Kelly have attempted to exert influence on the Illinois Gaming Board, which heavily regulates the state's nine casinos, according to court records.

Rezko's Las Vegas debt was to gaming corporations that also own casinos in Elgin, Joliet and the southern Illinois city of Metropolis.

Rezko once attempted to use his clout to appoint the director of the state's gaming board, according to federal court records. Kelly also tried to get someone appointed to the board, records show.

Their choices didn't make the final cut.

Meanwhile, Blagojevich made Kelly his point man on casino issues, directing him to work with the gaming board to free up the state's 10th casino license from litigation.

That license, once destined for Rosemont, was held up for years under allegations of mob influence among investors.

Rezko was one of the early identified minority investors, but his name was later pulled. Rezko reportedly also held an option on a hotel site near the proposed casino.

Blagojevich said Thursday that he didn't know about Rezko's gambling issues and said he had been to Las Vegas only once in his life. The governor knew Kelly was a heavy gambler.

The Las Vegas charges stem from gambling in the spring and summer of 2006, around the same time federal investigators were closing in on Rezko.

According to the May 16 criminal complaint, Rezko bounced $250,000 over five checks at Caesars between March 24 and July 15 of 2006. He also is accused of bouncing four checks on July 13, 2006, at Bally's totaling $200,000.

All nine checks, according to the complaint, were drawn on Rezko's account at Chicago's Broadway Bank, which is owned by the family of Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

Giannoulias' family bank and Rezko have an extended relationship. Broadway provided backing for one of Rezko's Chicago condo deals that didn't pan out. Rezko also backed Giannoulias' brother for appointment to an influential state board, court records show.

A Giannoulias spokesman didn't return calls seeking comment.