CHICAGO - A plea agreement reached between federal authorities and the former head of the Illinois Finance Authority Ali Ata alleges that an unnamed public official — widely known to be Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — sought to reward Ata with a top state post in exchange for campaign contributions.
Ata, who is now cooperating with prosecutors, entered a guilty plea to one count of making false statements to a federal law enforcement official and one count of making false statements on his tax return. The charges stem from allegations that he assisted businessman and political fundraiser Antoin Rezko in a fraudulent business deal.
The plea agreement was reached amid Rezko's ongoing trial on separate corruption charges alleging he participated in efforts to shake down businesses interested in doing state investment business to enrich himself and for campaign contributions to the governor.
Ata appeared before U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel yesterday to enter his plea. It was in the plea documents filed by U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office that the stunning allegations involving the governor - who was not named - were alleged.
Federal documents filed in connection with the Fitzgerald's Operation Board Games investigation of state corruption have long referenced "Public Official A." Local publications have long identified that official as being Blagojevich, despite his adamant denial. A federal judge overseeing Rezko's current trial recently confirmed the tie.
Blagojevich's office did not have an immediate response yesterday. None of the allegations prior to Ata's plea agreement have alleged in such detail Public Official A's personal involvement in the alleged pay-to-play schemes.
Ata pleaded guilty to lying to a federal investigator when he said in interviews that he was not aware of any role Rezko played in his appointment to head the authority and that he did not receive anything in exchange for his political contributions to Public Official A. In fact, he received the post at the helm of the IFA which paid $127,000 as a result of contributions, according to the plea.
Ata allegedly met with Public Official A in or about 2000 or 2001 at which time the official said he was considering a run for higher office and asked for Ata's support. Blagojevich won the governor's race in the fall of 2002.
In or about 2002, Ata said he had conservations with Rezko about a high level appointment in state government should the unnamed official win election. Ata held a fundraiser for the official in or about August 2002.
"In advance of that fundraising event, defendant Ata committed to Antoin Rezko that he would raise $25,000 at that event, which he eventually did, personally contributing at least approximately $5,000," the plea agreement states. "Later that year, Rezko approached the defendant for additional monetary support. Defendant Ata agreed to contribute $25,000 in additional monies to the campaign of Public Official A."
Ata brought that check to Rezko's offices, handed the check to Rezko and then was ushered into a conference room to meet with Public Official A. "Rezko placed the envelope containing the defendant's $25,000 check to Public Official A's campaign on the conference room table," the plea agreement reads.
"Public Official A expressed his pleasure and acknowledged that the defendant had been a good supporter and good friend," the document states. After the meeting, the defendant completed an application for a state appointment. In or about early 2003, Rezko informed the defendant that he was going to be appointed to head the state Capital Development Board. Rezko subsequently informed the defendant that this position was going to someone else and that another position would have to be found.
Rezko later discussed the opportunity to manage the newly formed Illinois Finance Authority, which opened its doors in January, 2004.
In or about July 2003, Rezko asked the defendant to make an additional $50,000 contribution to the campaign of Public Official A. Ata agreed and gave the check to Rezko. Some time later, Ata had a conversation with Public Official A at a large fund-raising event at Navy Pier during which the official told him he had been a good supporter and that he would be joining Public Official A's administration. In the position, he was expected to report to Rezko.
Ata originally entered a not guilty plea last spring when federal authorities first unsealed the charges alleging that he assisted Rezko in a fraudulent business deal. In that case, which has not yet gone to trial, Rezko is accused of attempting to fraudulently obtain more than $10 million in loans for pizza restaurants in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas and of defrauding investors in the franchises. Ata was charged with one count of aiding and abetting wire fraud for his alleged role.
Ata, a longtime friend and business associate of Rezko, was accused of signing a false letter on IFA letterhead in February 2004 saying that an unnamed investor had applied for a loan from the IFA to purchase Rezko's pizza businesses in order to inflate the worth of the businesses and obtain loans. The proposed transactions were a sham, according to the indictment. Ata resigned from the IFA in 2005.