Either Tony Rezko likes to gamble big, or a deal may be on the near horizon with prosecutors. Rezko rested his defense in his corruption trial without calling a single witness, staying off the witness stand. Given the late addition of Ali Ata to the government’s case, the strategy seems very puzzling:

Heard only in brief recordings during the course of his two-month fraud trial, Antoin “Tony” Rezko finally spoke up in person Monday—but only to tell a judge he had no intention of taking the stand in his own defense.

In fact, lawyers for the political insider told the judge that they would be calling no witnesses at all.

Rezko’s defense instead chose to rest after putting only a list of documents into evidence, making a tactical decision to try to show that prosecutors have fallen well short of proving that Rezko used his influence with Gov. Rod Blagojevich to corrupt two state boards.

Defendants in criminal trials have no requirement to put on a defense. They can assess that the prosecution has not made its case, and in some cases can avoid making it for them by calling no witnesses that could get impeached by the prosecution in cross-examination. It’s a big risk; there is no way of telling whether the jury found the prosecution’s case credible. And in this case, where the prosecution had a number of interesting wiretaps to support the witness testimony, it looks like a spin of a roulette wheel where almost all the slots are zeroes.

Some reporters speculate that the defense wants to play Let’s Make a Deal after Ata’s testimony. They have until the jury returns with a verdict to do so, but it might have been wiser to ask for a short continuance rather than rest the case. The standard motion for dismissal got made, but it’s unlikely the judge will take the decision out of the hands of the jury at this stage.

What would a deal entail? It would probably target Governor Blagojevich, whom Ata put at the scene of a payoff. If Rezko turns and corroborates Ata, Blagojevich would find himself the defendant at the next trial, and Rezko could blow the lid off of Illinois politics altogether. With closing arguments expected to start next week, we will soon know if Rezko’s a gambling man or if he has decided to cash out.

Tags: Illinois