Thursday :: Jan 10, 2008

Obama Can't Shake Connections To Chicago Insider In Trouble With FBI

by Jeff Dinelli

Memo from Suburban Illinois:

Sen. Barack Obama likes to brag that part of his toughness stems from being a part of Chicago politics. Here in Chicago, however, his relationship with Tony Rezko, a heavy hitter in real estate, notorious back room operator, and wire mail fraud fixer is becoming more and more of a problem as Rezko's time in court has arrived. Antonin "Tony" Rezko faces extortion and fraud charges, which include shakedown allegations involving an Illinois pension fund.

Rezko, a Syrian-born U.S. citizen who owned a real estate development business and a group of fast-food franchises, has spent his career showering Illinois officials with campaign money. He was a top fundraiser for Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

His connection to Obama began when the future senator got national attention as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. Rezko was impressed by what he read and offered Obama a job to work in his real estate development company. Obama turned him down, but it was the beginning of a political friendship, with Rezko being one of the first to donate big bucks to Obama's senate campaign in 1996.

In October of 2006 it was revealed that Rezko helped Obama purchase a home for hundreds of thousands of dollars below the market value, while Rezko bought the lot next door. Illinois residents remember well Obama saying he didn't recall the conversations with Rezko, then remembered after Chicago papers started examining the deal, then admitted it was a "bone-headed mistake" on ABC.

Rezko is charged with plotting to shake down money management firms hoping to do business with the Illinois Teachers Retirement System, a $39 billion state pension fund, for kickbacks. He also is charged with swindling the General Electric Capitol Corp. out of $10 million in a deal involving the purchase of pizza restaurants.

While Obama turned down Rezko's offer of a job back in 1991, he ended up in a group of real estate deals involving the developer anyway. He accepted a position at the law firm then known as Davis Miner & Barnhill. There he represented community groups that partnered with a developer in getting city and state housing rehabilitation loans. The developer was Rezko.

This relationship has always been big news here. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Obama provided an internship for a buddy of Rezko's. That same article mentions a shake down of a Hollywood producer for $1.5 million in campaign contributions to Gov. Blagojevich.

Tony Rezko stories go on and on within the always exciting stories of shady Chicago politics. They're not going away, as the ABC-TV story above indicates. For years they have tarnished Obama's squeaky-clean image in Illinois.

As for the presidential campaign, Rezko has donated $120,000 to Obama, with the Senator taking $44,000 of that and giving it to charity. Hillary Clinton has certainly had her fair share of shady connections allegations, we'll see if this local story has any legs nationally for Obama.

Update: ABC News' write-up on this.

Jeff Dinelli :: 9:20 AM :: Comments (37) :: Digg It!