Friday, October 20, 2006

Rezko pleads not guilty

Blagojevich pal gets FBI escort to court.

A fundraiser and close adviser to Gov. Rod Blagojevich pleaded not guilty to fraud charges Thursday after being escorted to federal court by FBI agents.

The appearance in court of Antoin "Tony" Rezko ended weeks of speculation about his whereabouts that peaked after a pair of indictments were unsealed against him last week.

Federal prosecutors charge that Rezko leveraged his influence with state leaders to extort illegal payments and a campaign contribution from investment firms seeking to do business with Illinois. He is separately accused of setting up a phony transaction involving the sale of his pizza restaurants.

Despite the official escort--agents met Rezko's plane as it landed Thursday at O'Hare International Airport--Rezko walked into court seemingly unconcerned, waving to family members and shaking his lawyer's hand.

His attorney, Joseph J. Duffy, said Rezko's travel back to Chicago had begun in his native Syria after he concluded a business trip to the Middle East.

"In the last week, there has been what I would call an unnecessary media frenzy about Mr. Rezko and his whereabouts and his intentions," Duffy said as he left the courthouse. "Mr. Rezko today in court proclaimed his innocence.

He is confident he will be vindicated in trial."Rezko was arraigned before U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras in the charge related to his pizza business and before U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve in the kickback case. Kocoras and St. Eve agreed to release Rezko on $1.4 million bail.


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