CHICAGO — Convicted political fixer Antoin ‘‘Tony’’ Rezko has been quietly visiting Chicago’s federal courthouse, setting off speculation that he may be spilling secrets to prosecutors in return for a lenient sentence.
Prosecutors investigating Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration would plainly like to hear what Rezko knows, and there is plenty of incentive to talk.
‘‘Jail is horrible and Tony Rezko has just two options,’’ says Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association. ‘‘One option is to do nothing and get a full sentence. The other is to cooperate with prosecutors.’’
Attorneys with knowledge of the government’s investigation of corruption in state government say they are convinced the one-time key fundraiser for Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Sen. Barack Obama is either talking or about to do so.
Two attorneys said Monday they and other lawyers have been contacted by prosecutors seeking to check information that only Rezko could have told them. Both attorneys spoke only on condition of anonymity, saying prosecutors have sought to keep such matters secret as part of the grand jury investigation.
The Chicago Tribune reported Sunday that four lawyers claimed to the newspaper that they have been called by prosecutors with information from Rezko or his attorneys.
Rezko, 53, a one-time millionaire real estate developer and fast-food entrepreneur, raised funds for many Illinois politicians — more than $1 million for Blagojevich. And in return he became one of the governor’s key advisers.
He also raised money for Obama’s Illinois campaigns but not for his presidential bid. Obama has donated $159,000 in Rezko-related contributions to charity.
Rezko was convicted in June of mail fraud, wire fraud, attempted extortion and money laundering. Witnesses said he launched a scheme to get $7 million in payoffs from a contractor and a group of money management firms that were hoping to do business with state boards stacked with his political allies.
Some of the charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years each.
Rezko attorney William Ziegelmueller declined to comment about the courthouse visits, and attorney Joseph Duffy, the lead counsel at Rezko’s trial, did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Monday.
Rezko’s sentencing on Oct. 28 comes only days before the presidential election. Republican rival John McCain has been running TV ads linking Obama to Rezko. But Obama’s name surfaced only briefly at the trial and there was no evidence of wrongdoing on Obama’s part.
Rezko also faces trial next year on charges of swindling General Electric Capital Corp. out of $10 million in the sale of a pizza business. The sheer size of the loss could send him to prison for many more years if he is convicted.
And Rezko is also facing allegations in Las Vegas that he failed to pay debts totaling almost $800,000 to three gambling casinos.
‘‘If he is convicted of causing the loss of $10 million he is looking at a very high sentence and that obviously shifts a tremendous amount of leverage to the prosecution side — the only way to get out of that is to cooperate,’’ said former federal prosecutor Anthony Barkow, now executive director of the Center for Administration of Criminal Law at New York University.
Rezko initially had been scheduled for sentencing Sept. 3 and U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve repeatedly said she wanted to keep that date. But in late August she postponed the sentencing to Oct. 28 after defense lawyers said they needed more time to file post-trial motions.
At the same time, federal marshals began taking Rezko from the Metropolitan Correctional Center where he is being held to the courthouse where prosecutors have their offices, the attorneys and law enforcement officials who spoke to The AP said. The law enforcement officials also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.
They said he entered through a basement garage and went upstairs on a back elevator unseen by the public. But reports of his presence in the building quickly spread — and so did speculation that he might be willing to do an about-face.
The attorneys told the AP that Rezko may not have made a final agreement to talk but could have dangled information before prosecutors to coax them into making a deal.
If Rezko talks, what might he say about Blagojevich? Revelations about the governor drew much attention at Rezko’s trial.
Political insider Ali Ata, who got his job as head of the Illinois Finance Authority from Blagojevich through Rezko, testified that the governor discussed hiring him after Ata put a $25,000 campaign contribution on the table.
The federal government has spent years investigating whether patronage jobs were handed out legally under Blagojevich, and Rezko might shed additional light.
Ata and two other political insiders, Stuart Levine and Joseph Cari, testified at Rezko’s trial that Blagojevich hinted to them that they might profit by raising money for his future campaigns.