Politics

Rezko trial witness details drug binges

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

It was another day of tough interrogation for the prosecution's key witness in the corruption trial of political fundraiser Tony Rezko.

Defense attorneys hammered away at Stuart Levine and his history of drug use. The intent of the defense is to completely discredit the testimony of Levine. Levine is testifying against Rezko under a plea that could cut a life sentence to just five and a half years. However, so far, the cross examination of Levine has not focused on Rezko at all, but Levine's character or rather the lack of it.

The attempt to attack the memory of the government's star witness continued Monday during the trial of political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, Levine's years of drug use once again took center stage. At issue is how much money Levine spent on his lavish drug binges, all-night, male-only parties that he says not only took place at the Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood, but at the Four Seasons, Drake and former Swiss Grand Hotel in Chicago. Levine testified he occasionally did drugs in his office and aboard charter flights to Springfield.

Despite continued use, Levine told jurors, he spent only $20,000 a year on drugs - a figure, defense attorney Joseph Duffy implied, is low considering how much cash Levine says he generated each month.

Levine says during some months he wrote thousands of dollars in checks to cash, which Levine says included spending money on gifts to his drug buddies as well as an alleged $20,000 bribe to former alderman Edward Vrdolyak.

Several times, Duffy asked, Levine, "Are you trying to minimize your drug use to the jury?"

Levine replied, "No, Mr. Duffy, I'm not, as a matter a fact, I'm very intent on doing the best job I can. I do know, I'm telling the truth."

Despite that, Levine is a self-admitted liar and criminal. The defense says his testimony linking Rezko to kickback schemes is just another lie.

The defense also questioned Levine about secret recordings he was supposed to have with former 43rd Ward Alderman William Singer. Duffy implied that Levine may have sabotaged undercover activities for the government when suddenly Levine's main and back-up recorders did not work during a conversation with Singer. The former alderman was under government surveillance. Singer has not been charged with an wrongdoing.

Levine testified he did not know why the tape recorders didn't work. Levine told federal agents that a button inside his Armani jacket may have accidently turned the recordings off.

The defense continued to hammer away at the 62-year-old's memory. Levine admitted he could not remember the day, month or year that he stood before a judge to plead guilty.

Levine, the political insider who claims he and Rezko schemed to squeeze more than $7 million in kickbacks from companies seeking state business, said he sometimes went to his office after all-night drug parties and continued snorting crystal methamphetamine and other powerful narcotics behind closed doors.

But he would be shocked to hear that his secretary had heard him.

"The only thing I can say to you, Sir, is that if my snorting was so loud that you could hear me snorting through a wall and a door, then I'm amazed at the loudness of my snorting," Levine told Rezko's chief defense counsel Duffy.

But in a ruling issued before the start of the trial, U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve said office workers had heard snorting sounds coming from Levine's inner office and found bloody tissues. He admitted on the stand Monday that he got nosebleeds from ingesting as many as 10 "lines" of powdered drugs a night into his nose through a straw.

Rezko, 52, is charged with scheming with Levine to get kickbacks from money management firms wanting to invest assets of the $40 billion fund that pays the pensions of retired downstate and suburban teachers.

Rezko also is charged with scheming with Levine to split a $1 million bribe from a contractor who wanted to build a hospital in Crystal Lake.

Levine sat on the two state boards with control over such matters. But prosecutors say it was the more than $1 million Rezko raised for Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign fund that gave him the clout to launch the schemes. Blagojevich has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Rezko denies he took part in any such schemes. But Levine has pleaded guilty and is testifying as the government's key witness in hopes of getting a lenient 67-month federal prison term.

Duffy maintains Levine's brain was so badly cooked by years of taking various powerful drugs that he doesn't recall just what happened.

The veteran defense attorney, a former federal prosecutor, walked a careful line Monday as he questioned Levine.

Duffy is allowed to ask Levine about his drug use, but is barred by a court order from asking about what prosecutors call Levine's "personal social life" and what defense attorneys have been describing to jurors as his "secret life."

St. Eve ruled telling the jurors exactly what that life consisted of would be too prejudicial to the government's case.

But Duffy repeatedly got Levine to admit that he took part in all-night drug sessions with male companions at various hotels, sometimes in groups and sometimes one on one.

He testified that some of the drug parties started in midmorning and went on through the night and into the next day.

Levine again testified that his favorite drugs before March 2004, when FBI agents knocked on his door and his life abruptly changed, were crystal methamphetamine and kaetamine, a tranquilizer known to users as Special K.

He said he sometimes took as many as 10 lines of each at a party.

Duffy asked him if on the morning after such a party he ever "didn't have a clear recollection of what happened on the night before?"

"I don't believe so," Levine said.

"Did you ever say to your drug buddies, 'What the hell happened? I don't recall what happened?"' Duffy asked.

"I don't recall that," Levine said.

"Is it possible that you don't remember it because you are unable to remember it?" Duffy asked.

Levine answered: "It's possible."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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