The arrest this week by FBI agents of Chicago real estate developer Antoin “Tony” Rezko made headlines for only one reason. Rezko is Barack Obama’s slum landlord best mate, according to Hillary Clinton. According to Obama, Rezko is “a friend of mine, a supporter, who I’ve known for 20 years.”
FBI agents arresting someone in Chicago will conjure up images in some minds of organized crime, but the charges against the businessman are actually far less glamorous. Rezko is not accused of drug dealing or murder. He is accused of conspiracy, influence peddling and demanding kickbacks from companies seeking Illinois state business. His bond was revoked because the court considered him a flight risk following prosecution claims that he was hiding millions of dollars in assets.
On Monday this week, prosecutors also revealed that in 2005 Rezko tried to buy entry into the United States for an Iraqi billionaire, Nadhmi Auchi. Auchi paid Rezko $3.5 million for the favour. Rezko attempted to conceal this money which is what led to his arrest.
Like others in his business, Rezko cultivated politicians who he felt could be useful to him. He bought and sold political influence. And one of the people he tried to buy was Barack Obama — who admits to having lobbied on Rezko’s behalf while in the Illinois State Senate.
Obama has not denied taking Rezko money. And aware of the fact that it might seem like tainted money to some, he’s announced that he’s giving it away. Obama already returned over $150,000 of Rezko money to charity, but some think that there’s actually much more money involved. Obama denies this, and says “we’ve traced any funds that we know of that we think were connected to him. And if there any other funds that were connected to him that we’re not aware of, then we will certainly return them.”
It’s not just the many campaign contributions Rezko made over the years to Obama. It’s the questionable deals Obama made with Rezko, such as purchasing a home (next door to Rezko’s wife) for $300,000 below the market price.
Obama also admits to doing several hours of work on behalf of Rezko.
Except for the “slum lord” reference in the South Carolina debate, the Clinton’s have made little use of the Rezko scandal as they are hardly eager to remind voters of the many scandals — financial and otherwise — during the Clinton White House years.
Alone among the three Democratic candidates, former Senator John Edwards has refused to take money from lobbyists and corporations, and is relying on small donations from supporters and federal matching funds to run his campaign.