President-elect Barack Obama’s ties to arrested Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich run primarily through Chicago slum lord and felon Tony Rezko.
Rezko served as the political godfather for both Blagojevich and Obama, helping both to rise in Chicago and Illinois politics. Obama himself has credited Rezko with helping bolster his political career.
Rezko raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for both politicians.
A 76-page FBI affidavit released today after the arrest of Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, says Blagojevich conspired “to sell” the Illinois Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called the effort to barter the seat the “most sinister and appalling” of a long list of accusations against Blagojevich. Blagojevich, as governor, is responsible for naming Obama’s replacement.
Rezko's ties to both men are extensive.
Rezko’s Ties to Obama According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the two met in 1990 while Obama was still attending Harvard Law School. Rezko offered Obama a job, but Obama declined. In 1995, Obama billed 32 hours for work done on behalf of Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corp., a company involved in a low-income housing partnership with Rezko. He also wrote letters supporting the proposed development. Rezko was Obama’s second largest individual contributor when he began his run for an Illinois state Senate seat in 1995. Two Rezko companies contributed $2,000 to Obama’s campaign, and Rezko and wife Rita reportedly worked on Obama’s campaign. In the first half of 1997, according to a report by Newsmax Contributing Editor Kenneth R. Timmerman, two Rezko companies contributed $2,000 to Obama’s ongoing political operation. In the first half of 1998, Rezko provided Obama’s campaign food worth an estimated $457.70 as an “in-kind contribution.” Rezko was one of Obama’s biggest contributors when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2003 and 2004, and Rezko was a member of Obama’s campaign finance committee, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. In June 2003, Rezko held a ritzy fundraiser for Obama at his tony Wilmette mansion. Obama later said, “Rezko was not my largest fundraiser but a significant fundraiser.” According to Reuters, Obama said Rezko raised as much as $250,000. In 2005, as news began to spread that federal authorities were investigating Rezko, Obama bought a house in Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood for $1.65 million. Rezko’s wife, Rita, paid $625,000 for a lot adjacent to Obama’s new home, and the two deals closed on the same day. Seven months later, Rezko’s wife sold one-sixth of her lot — a 10-foot strip of a 60-foot lot — to Obama for $104,500. In December 2006, Obama told The Washington Post the deal was a “boneheaded” mistake. “There’s no doubt I should have seen some red flags in terms of me purchasing a piece of property from him,” Obama said. The Post reports Rezko and Obama later “collaborated” to construct a fence to divide the two properties, which Obama said was required by city code. Obama paid for lawn maintenance for both properties. In March 2008, Obama said Rezko had raised up to $250,000 to help underwrite his prior campaigns in Illinois — a much higher figure than had previously been reported. Rezko helped Obama’s presidential campaign raise over $150,000. The campaign later donated Rezko’s contributions to charity.
Rezko Ties to Blagojevich The FBI says between June 2001 and August 2004 Rezko raised over $1.4 million for Blagojevich’s political campaigns, according to the Los Angeles Times. (Blagojevich was elected governor of Illinois in 2002, and re-elected in 2006.) Rezko hosted Blagojevich’s first post-election party at his mansion. Although he had no official role in the Blagojevich administration, he reportedly participated in several Blagojevich strategy retreats. In October 2006, authorities indicted Rezko for soliciting kickbacks from companies seeking state contracts that were awarded by officials under the governor’s authority. According to the Los Angeles Times, $20,000 that Rezko garnered from kickbacks found its way via a middleman into Obama’s Senate campaign coffers. Rezko’s June 2008 trial on corruption strongly implicated Blagojevich. Blagojevich allegedly discussed a state job for a donor, after that donor wrote a $25,000 check for his campaign. During the trial, prosecutors maintained that Rezko routinely arranged shakedowns while serving as a top Blagojevich adviser. In all, prosecutors said, Rezko squeezed various companies for some $7 million in kickbacks. Following his conviction on 16 counts of fraud, money laundering, and aiding and abetting bribery, Rezko said federal authorities tried to pressure him “to tell the wrong things” about the Obama and Blagojevich. The Sun-Times reported that prosecutors pushed Rezko to cooperate in the corruption probe against Blagojevich.
It should be noted that Obama has consistently stated he never intervened on behalf of Rezko in any state or federal business. Authorities have yet to suggest any wrongdoing on the part of either Obama or his staff.
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