Rod Blagojevich's lawyers on Tuesday asked the judge presiding in the former Illinois governor's corruption case to bar prosecutors from calling to the stand anyone still awaiting sentence for a felony conviction, including political fixer Tony Rezko.
Blagojevich's lawyers suggested in court papers that anyone convicted of a felony and still awaiting sentence would be an unreliable witness facing the temptation of using his testimony to curry favor with prosecutors.
"The promise and-or hope of freedom as an inducement by the government to obtain testimony by these witnesses is nothing short of bribery by the government as recognized by many respected federal judges," they told U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel.
Blagojevich is charged with scheming to sell or trade the Senate seat left vacant following President Barack Obama's election in exchange for financial benefits for himself. He also is accused of illegally using his powers as governor to pressure potential campaign donors for contributions. He has pleaded not guilty, and his trial is set to start in June.
In their motion Tuesday, Blagojevich's lawyers cited the 1998 case of United States v. Singleton in which a three-judge federal appeals panel in Denver ruled that trading lenience for testimony in a criminal case was illegal. The full appeals court overturned that panel's ruling.
Since the Singleton case, defense attorneys have often argued without much luck that getting admitted criminals to testify against others in exchange for light sentences is illegal. Blagojevich's lawyers also cited the 1999 case of United States v. Albanese in which a St. Louis-based appeals court rejected the Singleton theory but with one judge dissenting.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, Randall Samborn, had no comment on the motion.
Prosecutors have not said whether they plan to seek testimony from Rezko, a Chicago real estate developer and fast-food tycoon who was one of Blagojevich's top fundraisers. Rezko was convicted of scheming to launch a $7 million fraud scheme involving state pension money.
But prosecutors have indicated they are likely to call Stuart Levine, a one-time millionaire campaign contributor who was convicted in the same fraud scheme that sent Rezko to prison.
Levine was the government's star witness at Rezko's trial and got an agreement from the government for a 67-month sentence in exchange for his testimony. He is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Besides barring Rezko and Levine from the stand, the court should prohibit testimony from seven other witnesses convicted of felonies, the former governor's attorneys said.