Statement issued by Jay Stewart, BGA Executive Director:
Today, a jury of Illinois citizens wrote yet another chapter in the sad story of Illinois politics. The jury returned guilty verdicts on 16 counts against Tony Rezko. The evidence shows how Mr. Rezko used his influence in the Blagojevich administration to manipulate state boards and shake down businesses needing state approval for their projects or wanting to manage state pension funds.
At its core, the trial demonstrated how a “pay to play” mentality dominated the actions of Mr. Rezko in relation to two state boards: the Hospital Facilities Planning Board (“HFPB”) and the Teachers Retirement System (“TRS”). Health care entities, seeking approval for various projects from the HFPB or financial companies wanting to manage pension funds on behalf of TRS were expected to pay for it. Merit never entered into the equation.
In fact, during a news conference announcing Rezko’s indictment in 2006, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald candidly referred to the actions as a “ . . . pay-to-play scheme on steroids”.
Mr. Rezko is looking at a lengthy jail sentence, and he has yet to face a number of other criminal charges. While he is rightfully presumed innocent until proven guilty on those charges, Mr. Rezko’s legal problems only look to get worse, as federal prosecutors seek his cooperation in their continuing investigation. Those are difficult decisions the now-convicted Rezko must make regarding his future.
The other person that needs to look to the future is our current embattled Governor Rod Blagojevich. Recently the Governor announced he would not answer “stupid questions” about whether he will be a target of federal investigators in the future. In light of the blockbuster revelations aired during the Mr. Rezko’s trial, the sweeping nature of the conviction, and the recent statements by former Illinois Finance Authority head Ali Ata, the Governor may want to drop his combative attitude and face the fact that corruption permeated the heart of his political and governmental operations.
Tony Rezko was not some low level political operative that had a faint relationship with Rod Blagojevich. Rather, Tony Rezko was one of the Governor’s chief fundraisers, helping to build the biggest political fundraising machine that the State of Illinois has ever seen. Furthermore, Mr. Rezko had a close relationship with the Governor and his staff, sending recommendations for appointees to various state boards and commissions to the Governor’s home and meeting regularly with top gubernatorial staff.
Instead of ending business as usual, as promised to Illinois citizens in 2002, the Blagojevich administration has frankly redefined it. The administration presided over the massive expansion of the public corruption that most observers thought had been dealt a crippling blow in the trial of former Governor George Ryan.
The Governor has not yet been charged, but it is well known that the Blagojevich administration and his campaign fund are under fierce federal scrutiny.
As citizens read this never-ending sad story of recurring corruption in Illinois politics – chapter by chapter, year after year, decade after decade – perhaps the Governor could add a twist to the familiar plot lines and do something unprecedented in Illinois politics: drop the mindless P.R. and tell the public the truth about how he ran state government and any connections he has with the “pay to play” system that corrupts our public institutions.
There isn’t a wise defense attorney in America that would condone such action. However, when it comes to a multi-billion dollar government, funded by citizens in white and blue collars alike, the interest of the citizens and taxpayers of Illinois trumps whatever negative legal or publicity consequences such action would bring upon the Governor. He serves Illinois taxpayers, not the other way around. His definition of “stupid questions” is irrelevant. He needs to answer the obvious questions that face him and his administration in light of today’s verdict.