Illinois Democratic fundraiser nailed for fraud, extortion

A prominent fund-raiser for Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been charged with fraud and attempted extortion, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Antoin Rezko, 51, a real estate developer and restaurant owner who lives in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Illinois, was named in two separate grand jury indictments unsealed by U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald.

Rezko was charged with 24 counts, including fraud and attempted extortion, for demanding millions of dollars in kickbacks from investment firms and a construction company vying to build a hospital.

Teachers pension board trustee Stuart Levine was also involved in the alleged scheme, according to prosecutors. Levine, who had been charged with shaking down investment firms and is cooperating with authorities, was hit by more charges on Wednesday.

According to the indictment, Rezko and Levine told an investment firm it would have to hand over $2 million or make a $1.5 million political contribution to an unnamed public official. In exchange, the firm would be given $200 million of pension fund money to manage.

There was “a frenzy of corrupt scheming,” Fitzgerald said.

The second indictment charged Rezko with two counts of fraud for obtaining a $10 million loan to finance sham sales of pizza restaurants he owned.

Rezko, who was traveling outside the United States and could not be reached for comment, has been an important adviser and fund-raiser to Blagojevich, who is favored in polls to win a second term as governor on November 7.

Fitzgerald said the indictments were not timed to emerge before the election.

In a statement, Blagojevich said that if the allegations were proven true, they were “a violation of my trust but far more importantly a betrayal of the public’s trust.”

© 2006 Reuters

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