Wednesday, February 27, 2008

U.S. says Rezko paid his way in: Fundraising tied to high-level access in Illinois, prosecutors say

The Chicago Tribune reports:
In their strongest language yet, federal prosecutors said Tuesday that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration granted access and influence to Antoin "Tony" Rezko because of his prowess as a fundraiser for the governor.

Rezko's role as a key Blagojevich insider is essential to understanding how he was able to extort illegal payments and a campaign contribution from firms seeking state business, prosecutors said in a motion filed a week before Rezko's corruption trial is set to begin.

"Rezko parlayed his success in raising significant sums of money for Gov. Blagojevich into power by gaining access to high-ranking Illinois officials, being given deference in filing board and job positions, and by influencing how certain boards conducted business," prosecutors said. "At base, Rezko's power and importance flowed from his ability to raise money."

To illustrate Rezko's power and access, prosecutors said they want to present evidence that Rezko met regularly with Blagojevich patronage chief Joe Cini to discuss hiring in the new Democratic administration.

Prosecutors said Jennifer Thomas, a former Cini assistant, is prepared to testify that from early April through November 2003, she and Cini met at Rezko's office to receive names and information from him about candidates for state agency jobs as well as seats on state boards and commissions.

The Tribune in 2005 disclosed that Cini -- along with other Blagojevich hiring officials -- was under federal investigation.

Though Cini has not been charged with wrongdoing, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald has said that federal authorities have found evidence of "endemic hiring fraud." Cini is no longer with the administration.
The Illinois Way.