Ali Ata was repeatedly told that he was a "team player."
He contributed handsomely to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign fund and was rewarded with a state job, according to trial testimony Thursday in Blagojevich's federal corruption case.
Ata, 58, an engineer and commercial real estate developer, arrived at the offices of Blagojevich's close associate and fundraiser, Antoin Rezko on Aug. 20, 2002, with a check for $25,000 for Blagojevich's campaign fund, Ata testified. Ata was ushered to a conference room where Blagojevich was present.
Rezko put the check on the conference table and told Blagojevich that Ata "had been a team player . . . that I continued to support" the campaign and that "I was interested in joining the administration," Ata testified.
Although the meeting took place before November when Blagojevich was elected to his first term, Rezko told Ata to do some research and figure out what kind of job he might want in the administration. Ata wanted to head the state Capital Development Board, an agency that deals with the construction and renovation of state government buildings.
Although he was told he'd get that job, he did not. He ultimately got a job as the executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority, an agency that issues bonds and loans and invests in businesses. But that job cost Ata another $25,000, he testified.
In the summer of 2003, Rezko, who has since been convicted of corruption charges and is in prison, asked Ata for a $50,000 donation. "I told him I could do $25,000," Ata testified. He delivered the money during a July 25, 2003 fundraiser at Navy Pier, which Blagojevich had attended. Knowing that Rezko and Ata had talked about a job for Ata, "Mr. Blagojevich thanked me for my contribution," and said "'It better be a job where you make some money,'" Ata testified.
Through Ata's testimony, prosecutors tried to show that Blagojevich and his closest associates were involved in multiple pay-to-play schemes, selling state jobs and doling out contracts in exchange for campaign contributions to the Friends of Blagojevich fund. The defense insists Blagojevich was never involved in a quid pro quo transaction where he made contributing a prerequisite for doing business with the state.
In his dealings with Rezko, Ata testified that Rezko told him he could have Illinois Finance Authority job provided that he reported directly to Rezko. He held that job until April, 2005, he testified.
In November, 2005, as the feds were bearing down on Rezko, the FBI approached Ata and asked him to answer questions. He testified that he was not truthful with the FBI about his government and personal real estate transactions with Rezko. He later pleaded guilty to a tax charge and giving false statements to investigators. Ata testified that he got a voice mail message from an associate of Rezko's telling him not to cooperate, to be a good team player.
"I'm traveling with my friend Tony Rezko...I understand you have a function coming up...delay it as long as possible," Ata said the associate told him.
Ata said he feared that those who cooperated with the FBI "would be dealt with" because Rezko told him he was working with a high level GOP operative who was working with Carl Rove to convince then-President George Bush to replace the U.S. Attorney in Chicago and if that had happened, there would be negative repercussions.
In the beginning of cross examination, Rezko testified that he had known Blagojevich for many years, having met him through his father in law, Ald. Richard Mell (33rd). He testified that he gave his first donation to Blagojevich in 2001 when he was running for Congress. He also said that Blagojevich never directly asked him for anything or promised him anything in exchange for campaign contributions.
The trial is scheduled to resume on Monday.
Janan Hanna is a licensed attorney, a lecturer at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism and a freelance writer.
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