Verdict Brings Unwanted Friend to Obama Victory Party

Guilty verdict on 16 of 24 felony counts for Antoin "Tony" Rezko.

ByABC News
June 4, 2008, 6:06 PM

June 4, 2008— -- A day after Sen. Barack Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, one of his greatest political weaknesses thrust itself again into the limelight.

When a federal jury in Chicago delivered a guilty verdict on 16 of 24 felony counts for Antoin "Tony" Rezko Wednesday afternoon, it declared unequivocally that one of Obama's oldest and most generous political supporters, a man he called a "friend" for many years, was a corrupt influence-peddler.

In the Democratic primary race, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Obama's competition, hammered him over his ties to Rezko. The Republican National Committee has already seized on the Rezko conviction to attack Obama in a new Web video released on YouTube.

Obama was not directly connected to the case against Rezko and was not implicated in the charges filed. He had a brief cameo in a January court filing as the unnamed "political candidate" whose 2004 Senate campaign had accepted money from a Rezko kickback scheme, funneled through straw donors, according to a Chicago Sun-Times account.

But for Obama, who has positioned himself as a candidate of change and clean government, the verdict is sure to resurrect questions about his past dealings with the political fixer who offered him his first job out of law school (which Obama declined), corralled donations topping $200,000 into Obama's campaigns, threw him fundraisers and even participated in a deal that enabled the Obamas to the purchase their current family home.

In a statement Wednesday evening, Obama said he was "saddened" by the verdict.

"This isn't the Tony Rezko I knew," he said, adding that the convictions "once again shine a spotlight on the need for reform." He encouraged the Illinois General Assembly to take steps to "prevent these kinds of abuses in the future."

Obama's campaign has distributed to charity about $150,000 in contributions from Rezko and individuals connected to him.

Obama's ties to Rezko ensured the trial was heavily attended by the national media. But aside from a shout-out to the senator by the defense in its opening argument, the candidate's name barely surfaced.

A week into the trial, Obama's name appeared in a 2003 memo introduced as evidence, but it did not indicate Obama was involved in any corruption.