CHICAGO (CBS) — The rise and fall of one of a key Illinois political insider and power broker now behind bars on corruption charges is the basis for a new theater production in Chicago this fall.
WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports Stuart Levine is serving 5 ½ years in prison, after pleading guilty to money laundering and fraud charges, and testifying as a key government witness in the corruption investigation of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration.
A political insider with strong ties to both Republican and Democratic politicians, Levine gave thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, sat on several state boards, and swindled friends and colleagues alike, all while using cocaine, crystal meth, and other drugs.
“He wielded a lot of power behind the scenes, but also had a double life,” said former government spokesman Tim Touhy, who has co-written a play about Levine’s sordid past, shining a spotlight on Illinois’ infamous political mechanics. “Stuart Levine admitted that he was corrupt his entire life, that he abused drugs seriously most of his entire life, yet he was the star government witness.”
Touhy said he and director Andrew Gallant don’t intend to portray Levine as either a hero or villain – leaving it up to the audience to decide.
“There are going to be parts that are funny, and there’s going to be parts of this that disgust us,” he said.
However way people see Levine, Touhy said he is a fascinating character.
“He was a multimillionaire businessman from Highland Park who wound up selling electronic cigarettes at a kiosk in a mall, and is now in federal prison,” he said.
Touhy said he came up with the idea for “I Wish to Apologize to the People of Illinois” after reading Levine’s testimony against fellow political insiders Tony Rezko and William Cellini.
“Basically was reading the transcripts from the trial, and thought ‘you can’t write better dialogue than this,’” he said.
Levine was the government’s star witness against Rezko, admitting to a scheme to extort millions of dollars from companies seeking state business from the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System Board, and the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board.
He also testified at Cellini’s trial, helping convict Cellini of shaking down a movie producer and real estate investor for a $1.5 million donation to Blagojevich’s campaign, in order for his investment firm to get $220 million in state pension business.
Levine testified former Ald. Edward Vrdolyak was to have passed the bribe from movie producer Thomas Rosenberg, but the scheme fell through when Rosenberg threatened to go to the authorities. Vrdolyak later pleaded guilty to a plot to take a bogus finder’s fee on a lucrative real estate deal, to avoid trial on the extortion attempt.
Though Levine never testified against Blagojevich – and the the former governor was never charged in that scheme – the same investigation was what led to Blagojevich’s conviction on multiple corruption charges, including his scheme to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate.
Touhy is using wiretap recordings and testimony from the Rezko and Cellini trials as part of the play.
Touhy predicted the play, set to open in November, will appeal to political junkies and neophytes alike.