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Rezko wanted in Vegas over debts

The Democratic insider on trial in Chicago is accused of writing $450,000 in bad checks to casinos.

May 30, 2008|Jeff Coen, Ray Gibson and Bob Secter | Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Even as Antoin "Tony" Rezko's fate hung in the balance at his political corruption trial Thursday, his legal peril grew with the revelation that he's wanted in Las Vegas on charges of skipping out on large gambling debts.

Rezko -- an insider in the administration of Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and a onetime fundraiser for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) -- is accused of passing bad checks to cover debts at two casinos, authorities said, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Nevada officials said Rezko bounced $450,000 in checks at Caesars Palace and Bally's in a four-month stretch in 2006, a period when he was under investigation in Illinois and his financial empire had crumbled.

Clark County Dist. Atty. David Roger declined to say when his office would try to execute the arrest warrant.

"Our office has been in contact with the federal marshals," Roger said. "They are aware of our warrant and will execute it at the appropriate time."

Howard Adelman, a Chicago lawyer who has handled Rezko's civil matters related to the casinos, said an agreement had been in place for Rezko to make payments on his debt. "It will be resolved," he said.

Rezko's personal and corporate financial woes have been well documented in his various court cases. In January 2007, as U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve was taking stock of Rezko's financial picture, Rezko told the judge he had liabilities in excess of $50 million.

But the Las Vegas development is the first indication that gambling is part of his financial trouble. In addition to the criminal charges accusing him of writing bad checks from March to July of 2006, another casino, the Bellagio, filed a civil complaint that year saying he owed it $331,000.

Rezko's finances were a shambles even before he ran up the Vegas debts, according to testimony from multiple witnesses at his corruption trial, which began in March. The jury left for a three-day weekend without deliberating.

Rezko also is awaiting trial in a federal fraud case stemming from his attempts to raise financing to prop up a chain of pizza restaurants he owned.

The Las Vegas charges are especially striking because they involve high-stakes gambling activity at a time when, according to trial testimony, Rezko seemed aware that he was under federal scrutiny.

Several witnesses testified about conversations with Rezko or his associates as early as November 2004 in which they said a scheme was discussed to stop the federal probe by pulling strings with Karl Rove, then the top political strategist in the White House. Rove has denied knowledge of such a plan, which witnesses said involved an effort to fire U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

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