Blagojevich Adviser Indicted on Charges

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By MIKE ROBINSON
The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 11, 2006; 9:50 PM

CHICAGO -- A top adviser and fundraiser for Gov. Rod Blagojevich was charged in a federal indictment, unsealed Wednesday, with scheming to collect millions of dollars in kickbacks from companies seeking to do business with the state.

Businessman Antoin "Tony" Rezko was charged with operating a fraud scheme in which he, millionaire political contributor Stuart Levine and other insiders used Levine's position as a member of two state boards to pressure companies to pay kickbacks in exchange for state business.

Levine is among those previously charged in the case.

Rezko, 51, is also accused of trying to squeeze a company seeking to do business with the state for a $1.5 million contribution "to a certain public official." Prosecutors declined to name the official or to say whether anyone in the Blagojevich administration, including the governor, might be a target in the corruption investigation.

"This basically involved a pay-to-play scheme on steroids," U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said. Rezko and Levine engaged in "a frenzied effort to collect kickbacks," he said.

Rezko was also charged with swindling General Electric Capital Corp. out of $10.5 million in loans to a pizza restaurant business and bilking a group of investors.

Rezko attorney Joseph J. Duffy issued a statement saying his client was innocent and would be vindicated at trial.

The indictment unsealed Wednesday "appears to be the creation of Stuart Levine, a twice-indicted individual desperate to curry favor with the government to avoid being held accountable for his many years of corruption," Duffy said.

Levine attorney Jeffrey B. Steinback said Wednesday that Levine "is cooperating as he has since early this year, and it is his full intention to continue to cooperate."

The charges were unsealed four weeks before an election in which Blagojevich, a Democrat, is seeking a second term against Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka. She has accused him of following in the scandal-soiled footsteps of former GOP Gov. George Ryan, who was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison last month for racketeering conspiracy and other charges.

Topinka said she believed the charges against Rezko would influence how voters perceive Blagojevich.

"This is his right-hand man. This is not some third-level clerk," she said.


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© 2006 The Associated Press

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