Rezko's Sentencing Date Set

Convicted on corruption charges, will he turn state's witness?

A federal judge Tuesday set a Jan. 6 sentencing for Antoin "Tony" Rezko but it remained unclear whether the political fundraiser is helping the federal investigation of alleged corruption in state government or talks about cooperation have hit a snag.

"He wants to get on with his life," chief defense counsel Joseph J. Duffy said of Rezko, convicted in June on charges of using clout with Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration to help launch a $7 million kickback scheme.

Rezko, a prolific fundraiser, bankrolled Blagojevich's election races as well as President-elect Barack Obama's campaigns for the state legislature and Congress. But he did not provide money for Obama's presidential campaign.

Rezko was not in the courtroom for the brief hearing during which St. Eve set the Jan. 6 sentencing.

He had requested an early sentencing in a motion filed last week, saying he had remained for a long time in solitary confinement at the government's Metropolitan Correctional Center.

The motion suggested he might prefer to be in a regular federal prison.

Prosecutors most often want to delay sentencing for a defendant who is cooperating in their investigation until his cooperation is complete -- often after he has taken the witness stand and testified against others charged in the case.

Rezko's sentencing had been postponed indefinitely, giving rise to widespread speculation he was talking to prosecutors. But it took only a few minutes Tuesday to set an early sentencing date.

"I'm assuming you have no objection?" St. Eve asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner.

"No, Your Honor," Niewoehner said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office, Randall Samborn, said the government would have no comment.

Losing Rezko's cooperation could severely hurt the government's efforts to penetrate alleged influence peddling on state boards and commissions that make decisions involving millions of dollars and possibly other corruption as well.

Rezko was one of the key insiders in Blagojevich's campaigns for governor and remained close to the administration after he was elected.

But rebuffing the government also could be a big problem for Rezko, who remains in deep legal trouble. It is unclear how much time he is likely to receive for his conviction but the sentence St. Eve imposes is likely to be a harsh one.

And Rezko is set to go to trial early next year on unrelated charges that he swindled the General Electric Capital Corp. out of $10 million in the sale of a group of pizza restaurants. He also allegedly owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in gambling debts. His legal and financial woes could multiply unless he cooperates.

Making a deal with the government could ease his plight considerably.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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