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Judge rejects fundraiser Rezko's bid for new trial

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CHICAGO — A federal judge on Wednesday turned down a request for a new trial from convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko, the pivotal figure in a major Illinois political corruption scandal.

Rezko, 53, who made millions of dollars as a Chicago real estate developer and fast-food entrepreneur, was a major fundraiser for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, President-elect Barack Obama and a number of other officials.

Rezko was convicted in June of using clout with the governor's office to launch a $7 million scheme to squeeze payoffs out of a construction contractor and seven money management firms seeking state business.

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, who presided over the three-month trial, said federal prosecutors proved their case and she refused to throw out any of the guilty verdicts.

Rezko was convicted of 12 counts of mail fraud or wire fraud, two counts of aiding and abetting bribery and two counts of money laundering. He was acquitted of eight other counts.

The corruption federal prosecutors are investigating is focused on the executive branch of state government, though Blagojevich has not been charged. The prosecutors' probe has so far had nothing to do with activities on Capitol Hill and Obama has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

St. Eve's decision was expected. It came in response to a request for a new trial that also lays the groundwork for Rezko's appeal.

The appeal cannot be filed, however, until Rezko is sentenced and it is unclear when that will be because he is now believed to be cooperating with prosecutors in their ongoing investigation of corruption in Illinois government.

Prosecutors may wait until any cooperation from Rezko is complete _ including any testimony for the government in future cases _ before moving on to sentencing.

If satisfied with any help they get from Rezko, federal prosecutors may recommend a break for the now jailed businessman when St. Eve imposes the sentence.

Rezko is charged in an unrelated case with swindling the General Electric Capital Corp. out of $10 million in the sale of a chain of pizza restaurants.

Those charges could also be part of any deal Rezko might make with prosecutors.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, Randall Samborn, declined to comment on the judge's order. The lead attorney on Rezko's defense team, Joseph Duffy, said he would have no immediate comment on the order.

While Rezko was a major fundraiser for Obama in his campaigns for the Illinois state legislature, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, he did not raise money in this year's presidential campaign. And while the name of Blagojevich came up fairly often at the Rezko trial, the name of the president-elect was raised infrequently.