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When will the indictment come !

Ex-aide pleads guilty in Rezko case, points finger at Blagojevich

Ali D. Ata was accused in Papa John's scheme with Tony Rezko

April 22, 2008

A former top official in Gov. Blagojevich’s administration pleaded guilty to federal charges this afternoon and leveled some of the most significant accusations yet against the governor.

Ali Ata said in his plea deal that the governor offered him a top administrative position in state government in exchange for Ata’s tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.

According to Ata, he handed the governor a $25,000 check for a campaign contribution at a 2002 meeting with Blagojevich and longtime Blagojevich campaign fund-raiser Tony Rezko in Rezko’s Chicago office.

Blagojevich “expressed his pleasure and acknowledged that the defendant had been a good supporter and good friend,? the plea agreement says. The governor, “in the defendant’s presence, asked Rezko if he [Rezko] had talked to the defendant about positions in the administration, and Rezko responded that he had.?

Ata said that, after the meeting, he filled out an application for a state appointment. He previously had given Rezko a list of three agencies to which he would like to be appointed.

Later, at a July 2003 fund-raiser for the governor at Navy Pier, Ata — who had contributed another $25,000 — said Blagojevich spoke of him joining the administration and said, “It had better be a job where [Ata] could make some money.?

Ata subsequently was appointed executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority, a $127,000-a-year state job. The authority, which Blagojevich created in 2004, has provided $11 billion in funding for 780 projects.

A spokeswoman for the governor could not immediately be reached for comment on Ata’s allegations. Previously, the governor has said he doesn’t trade public positions for campaign contributions.

Blagojevich hasn’t been accused of any crime. But his administration is the target of an ongoing federal investigation involving “pay to play? allegations that state positions and contracts were traded for campaign contributions.

Ata, 56, of Lemont, was a codefendant in a business-fraud case against Rezko — involving Rezko’s fast-food franchises — that has yet to go to trial.

Rezko is now on trial on unrelated corruption charges that accuse him of using his influence in the Blagojevich administration to orchestrate a kickback scheme involving state business deals.

Ata admitted to making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and a tax-related count. He has agreed to give federal authorities unspecified future cooperation, according to his lawyer, Thomas McQueen.

The plea deal refers to the governor only as “Public Official A? — the same reference prosecutors have used.

But sources — and another federal judge — previously have identified Blagojevich as Public Official A. And Ata made the same dollar-amount contributions on the same dates detailed in the plea deal to the governor’s campaign, state records show.

The plea deal details a longstanding relationship between Blagojevich and Ata, dating to before Blagojevich’s first run for governor.

According to the charges against him, Ata, while executive director of the state finance agency, signed a letter bearing the agency’s name to help Rezko fraudulently secure $10 million in loans. Prosecutors said he did so at the request of Rezko to make it appear that an investor had partial state backing for a deal to acquire two groups of Rezko’s Papa John's pizza restaurants in Chicago and Milwaukee.

Ata knew Rezko wanted to show the letter to General Electric Capital Corp., prosecutors said, even though he knew it was phony.

Ata gave $65,000 to Blagojevich’s gubernatorial fund and thousands more when Blagojevich was in Congress.

Though Ata left his state post after about a year, after a critical audit, he soon was awarded a $55,200-a-year contract to be a consultant for the agency — a three-year deal he declined to sign after the Chicago Sun-Times raised questions about a foreclosure case he didn’t disclose when the governor hired him.

Ata and Rezko are longtime business associates.

Related Blog Posts
Obama Discloses Rezko Contributions
Star Witness Testifies in Rezko Trial

The views expressed in these blog posts are those of the author and not of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Category:general -- posted at: 9:01pm CDT