Thursday, May 1, 2008
Rezko and Peoria...Connect the Dots (Updated 12/29/2008)
People in Peoria need to keep an eye on the Tony Rezko federal fraud trial occurring now in Chicago. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is the lead prosecutor.
Attorney Fitzgerald, the current U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, was the special prosecutor investigating the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame, prosecuted former Illinois governor George Ryan, and built the first criminal indictment in 1998 against the world’s most hunted terrorist, Osama bin Laden.
Anything can happen in this trial in Chicago which is far from over.
Mr. Rezko is a defendant in the current case in which he is charged with exploiting his Blagojevich administration clout to influence actions of Illinois state boards in a scheme to extort millions of dollars of kickbacks.
One of the boards involved is the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board.
The Board was created in 1974 to slow down health care cost increases resulting from unnecessary construction by health care facilities. The Board issues certificates of need that allow health facilities to modify or construct facilities. The Health Board reviews large construction projects proposed by hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers.
This Board was corrupted years ago as will be explained.
Stuart Levine is a lawyer from upstate Illinois. He is the star prosecution witness in the trial of indicted political fixer Tony Rezko. On March 10, 2008, Levine told the jury that even before he got involved with the Blagojevich administration, he used to funnel campaign contributions to Democratic candidates through straw donors at the request of former Chicago Alderman Edward Vrdolyak, who has also been indicted on federal fraud and bribery charges in a related case.
Levine’s term on the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board was set to expire in 2004, but key people and politicians involved in the Rezko indictment (and in big trouble with the feds now) made sure Levine remained on the panel. It appears that Levine’s appointment on the Board had a wide array of support, including Mr. Rezko of course.
Also, Senator Barrack Obama’s name showed up in the email exchanges as reviewing the recommendations to appoint Levine and others to the Board. While all this was going on, as a state senator, Senator Obama was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. As such, his name also appeared in the email exchanges as a member of a team working on legislation to keep the Board from expiring under a sunset provision of Illinois law.
In other words, they wanted to keep the Board alive.
Well the political leaders, including Senator Obama, were able to keep the Board alive and, in the end, changes made by lawmakers in 2003 dropped the number of members on the Board from 15 to 9, making it much easier to stack the panel, and by the summer of 2003, all they needed was a 5-bloc vote.
In 2003, Thomas Beck, an Illinois businessman, was the chairman of the Board and Levine was the vice-chairman. Beck testified, under a grant of immunity, and told the jury that he took a $1,000 donation for Blagojevich when he (Beck) met with Rezko to seek reappointment. Prosecutors in the ongoing Rezko trial say Levine used his position on the health facilities planning board and a state pension board to pressure companies for payoffs.
So Beck and Levine would be good for 2 votes on the Board. The persons chosen to guarantee the remaining 3 votes were Drs. Imad Alomanaseer, Michel Malek, and Fortunee Massuda. All was good. The 5-bloc vote was guaranteed.
Why does a politician have an interest in who sits on the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board? Because it’s important to hospitals who want to build and expand, and it’s important to politicians who want to raise money from hospitals.
OSF Inc. in Peoria has donated a known $230,000 dollars to Illinois politicians since the late ‘90’s.
Last month, in March 2008, during an interview with the Tribune, Senator Obama was asked if he had discussions with Mr. Rezko about recommendations for the Board.
“I did not have any formal discussions with Tony (Rezko),” Obama said, “beyond one individual, and that was Dr. Eric Whitaker, who ultimately became the head of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and who had been a longtime friend of mine, who I had known since he was getting his master’s at Harvard and I was at the law school there.”
“He had expressed an interest in that post (Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board), Obama told Rezko, “I think this guy is outstanding and is certainly somebody who is worthy of an interview.”
However, as it turned out, Tony Rezko must have been under impressed with Dr. Whitaker. He was not appointed to the Board but, as noted above, Dr. Whitaker was appointed as director of IDPH.
Prior to being appointed as Director of IDPH, Dr. Whitaker worked at the Cook County Bureau of Health Services in Chicago, which again has been described by many as the most corrupt and inefficient taxpayer supported public health system in the entire country.
So Dr. Whitaker became part of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s administration, which many observers have tagged as the most unethical if not the most corrupt administration in the history of Illinois. Dr. Whitaker voluntarily stood in pictures with Blagojevich through many of Blagojevich’s medical fiascos in Illinois.
This is the same Dr. Whitaker who I wrote and informed of my concerns regarding Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the monopoly of care in the Peoria area. (Dr. Whitaker responded to me that I needed to contact the EMS division of IDPH, which of course was not helpful.) See Peoria’s Medical Mafia.
This is the same Dr. Whitaker who was privy to the Peoria Area Emergency Medical Services written statement regarding OSF-SFMC’s Dr. George Hevesy’s conflict of interest in Peoria. The written statement said that even though Dr. Hevesy was Vice-Chairman of the OSF-SFMC Emergency Department, Project Medical Director (the physician controlling ambulances and pre hospital care) for the Peoria area, Director of Region II for IDPH, and was receiving a salary from Advanced Medical Transport (the only paramedic agency in Peoria), this did NOT constitute conflict of interest or even the "POTENTIAL" for conflict of interest in Peoria. (The Peoria Fire Department and many other of the 70 EMS agencies controlled by Dr. Hevesy disagreed.)
Interestingly, Dr. Whitaker had nice awards for OSF-Emergency Department in Peoria during his tenure as Director of IDPH.
A news release from May 19, 2005 from Dr. Whitaker, presented Dr. Rick Miller, a physician at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, with the Ron W. Lee, M.D. Excellence in Pediatric Care Award for his contributions to Pediatric medicine. (As many people in the Peoria area EMS circle know, Miller was the Director of OSF-Emergency Department for many years and Project Medical Director, and worked with IDPH regarding EMS in central Illinois.)
The following year, 2006, another press release, this time from the office of the governor. Governor Rod Blagojevich presented John Hafner, Jr, M.D. with the Ron W. Lee. M.D. Excellence in Pediatric Care Awards for his contribution to childhood care.
(In 2007, Dr. Whitaker left IDPH and is now an executive vice-president of the University of Chicago Medical Center. That would be the same employer that pays Michelle Obama a salary of close to $350,000 as a vice president.)
And yet, readers, we are not done with the benevolence and love from the State of Illinois for OSF and Peoria.
Another news release on September 4, 2007 from Governor Blagojevich was titled: “Governor Blagojevich Announces Support for OSF Saint Francis Medical Center Expansion in Peoria that will Create Nearly 1,000 Jobs---Illinois Finance Authority Issues $460 Million in Bond Financing to Build New, State-of-the-Art Patient Tower.”
What this means is that the corrupt Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board had given a Certificate of Need for the OSF Milestone Project in September 2006 and now the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA) will issue $460 million in tax-exempt bonds for OSF's largest private expansion in Peoria history.
This was IFA’s second largest financing in ITS history.
Unfortunately, like other Illinois state affairs, the IFA has not been without its serious problems.
The Tribune published an article a week ago, “The Governor’s $25,000 Club”. It is another incredibly embarrassing chapter in the history of pay-for-play in Illinois politics.
Stay with me for another minute…here is how it goes:
Among the $25,000 donors to governor Blagojevich in 2003 was Ali Ata, who Governor Blagojevich later picked to become director of the IFA. Ata pleaded guilty last week to lying to federal agents when he denied his two $25,000 contributions helped get him his $127,000-a-year job. Ata’s plea came amid the federal corruption trial of top Blagojevich insider Tony Rezko, who is accused of extorting bribes and campaign contributions from people seeking state business.
Ata is now cooperating with federal prosecutors and faces up to 18 months in prison on charges that include lying to investigators about a conversation he had with Blagojevich about joining Blagojevich’s administration.
When Ata left his post at the IFA in 2005 he was replaced by the former executive of a Downstate bank whose parent company also contributed $25,000 dollars to Governor Blagojevich. Jill Rendleman took over as director of IFA after two years on its advisory board, a 2003 appointment she received the same month as her parent company’s $25,000 donation.
And remember IFA (and its pay-for-play director?) is helping OSF in Peoria to the tune of $460 million so OSF can expand its campus which is located one block from another major medical center (Methodist Medical Center) in Peoria.
Isn’t that great?
Just think if Attorney Fitzgerald really looked into OSF’s contacts with the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board (and good old Stuart Levine) as OSF built its opulent OSF Center for Health in the 90’s on the lucrative north side of Peoria. And what would Attorney Fitzgerald find when OSF obtained its certificate for need from the Board for the current 500 million dollar medical campus expansion program in downtown Peoria?
What would Attorney Fitzgerald find if he looked into OSF’s contacts with IDPH and its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) division? Would Attorney Fitzgerald think that there was negative conflict of interest in Peoria and a monopoly in Peoria regarding paramedic care and transport of the pre hospital patient?
Corruption doesn’t just happen in Chicago. And I don’t believe that Attorney Fitzgerald, who extracted a guilty plea from Mafia capo John Gambino, would be shy about looking at Peoria’s “leaders” if need be in the interests of the Rezko trial.
I think Peorians need to follow the Rezko trial closely in Chicago as Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and his team do their thing. This fraud trial has far reaching tentacles. Even though we are downstate Illinois, if the feds want it, the arrows may indeed point here someday.
See this article by Lynn Sweet. Note that it is written in October. It is about Eric Whitaker and his ties to Rezko.
Some sentences and quotes above are directly from the following sources: