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Rezko to challenge 'honest services' convictions

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MICHAEL TARM | November 4, 2010 04:41 PM EST | AP

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CHICAGO — A lawyer for a former fundraiser of impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Thursday his client will join a growing list of figures seeking to have their convictions overturned because they were underpinned by now-curtailed honest services laws.

A sentencing date was also finally set for Antoin "Tony" Rezko – more than two years after a jury convicted him, but before the retrial of his one-time friend and client.

Rezko's attorney Joe Duffy told a judge that he will soon file a motion challenging the convictions in light of a high court ruling about the laws that prosecutors have employed for years to try to root out corruption in both business and government.

A jury convicted Rezko in 2008 of squeezing kickbacks from people who wanted state business. The convictions were only partially based on laws making it a crime for executives or elected officials to deprive shareholders or constituents of their honest services.

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve also said at the status hearing that she would finally sentence the 55-year-old Rezko on Jan. 28. Before setting that date, St. Eve asked Duffy if Rezko wanted to be sentenced before Blagojevich's corruption retrial starts in April.

"That's Mr. Rezko's wish," Duffy told her. Rezko himself remains in jail awaiting sentencing and did not appear in court on Thursday.

Earlier sentencing dates had been postponed, suggesting that Rezko was spilling secrets to prosecutors in hopes of getting a reduced sentence. Several counts carry maximum 20-year prison terms.

Duffy declined to explain after the hearing why Rezko wanted to get the sentencing over with or what that might say about the chances he cut a deal with the government.

Rezko, who also once raised money for Barack Obama, did not testify at Blagojevich's first trial. But Duffy has said his client, if asked, was prepared to testify at the second.

The jury in the initial trial ended weeks of deliberations deadlocked on 23 of 24 charges, agreeing to convict Blagojevich only of lying to the FBI. The ex-governor denies wrongdoing.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that aspects of the honest services law were too broad and unconstitutionally vague – and they ruled that it could only be applied in instances of bribes and kickbacks.

Duffy mentioned in court a decision last month by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn some of former media mogul Conrad Black's fraud convictions because they derived from honest services law. He didn't elaborate.

Prosecutors had portrayed Rezko as an especially sinister figure in schemes to profit from state actions, with kickbacks at the very core of his crimes. That would seem to make Rezko's bid to overturn his convictions a long shot at best.

Others hoping to have convictions tossed based on the court's ruling include Jeffrey Skilling, former CEO of disgraced energy giant Enron Corp., and imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.