The Rezko Connection: Obama's Achilles Heel?

PHOTO: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Illinois Senator Barack Obama house is seen March 3, 2007 in Chicago, Illinois.

In sharp contrast to his tough talk about ethics reform in government, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., approached a well-known Illinois political fixer under active federal investigation, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, for "advice" as he sought to find a way to buy a house shortly after being elected to the United States Senate.

The parcel included an adjacent lot which Obama told the Chicago Tribune he could not afford because "it was already a stretch to buy the house."

On the same day Obama closed on his house, Rezko's wife bought the adjacent empty lot, meeting the condition of the seller who wanted to sell both properties at the same time.

Rezko had been widely reported to be under investigation by the U.S. attorney and the FBI at the time Obama contacted him and has since been indicted on corruption charges by a federal grand jury in a case that prosecutors say involves bribes, kickbacks and "efforts to illegally obtain millions of dollars."

This week, a federal judge in Chicago ordered the Rezko trial to begin Feb. 25.

Obama maintains his relationship with Rezko was "above board and legal" but has admitted bad judgment, calling his decision to involve Rezko "a bone-headed mistake."

Rezko's behind-the-scenes connection in the Obama house deal became public as Rezko revealed personal financial details as he sought to post bail.

While Rezko's wife paid the full asking price for the land, Obama paid $300,000 under the asking price for the house. The house sold for $1,650,000 and the price Rezko's wife paid for the land was $625,000.

Obama denies there was anything unusual about the price disparity. He says the price on the house was dropped because it had been on the market for some time but that the price for the adjacent land remained high because there was another offer.

Obama then expanded his property by buying a strip of the Rezko land for $104,5000, which the senator maintains was a fair market price.

Obama later told the Chicago Sun-Times, "It was a mistake to have been engaged with him at all in this or any other personal business dealing that would allow him, or anyone else, to believe he had done me a favor."

Obama had known Rezko long before the house deal, calling him a "friend."

An ABC News review of campaign records shows Rezko, and people connected to him, contributed more than $120,000 to Obama's 2004 campaign for the U.S. Senate, much of it at a time when Rezko was the target of an FBI investigation.

"It surprised me that late in the game he [Obama] continued to take contributions from somebody who was under a rather dark cloud in the state," said Cynthia Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a group that has worked closely with Obama and supported his legislative efforts.

In the wake of the Rezko indictment, Obama says he has given $44,000 of the Rezko-connected money to charity.

There is no mention of Obama in the Rezko indictment. Federal authorities say the investigation is focused on Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, identified in court filings as Public Figure A.

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