Jailed political fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko, the Chicago real estate developer who helped launch Barack Obama on his political career, is whispering secrets to federal prosecutors about corruption in Illinois.
Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose administration faces multiple federal investigations over how it handed out jobs and money with advice from Rezko, is considered the most vulnerable.
Rezko also was friendly with Obama – funding his earliest political campaigns and purchasing a lot next to his house. But there's no indication there'll be a so-called “October surprise” that could hurt the Obama – even though Rezko says prosecutors are pressing him for dirt.
Rezko, 53, a real estate developer, was convicted in June of scheming to use his clout with the Blagojevich administration to squeeze $7 million in kickbacks out of a contractor and seven money management firms seeking to do business with the state.
Within two months, Rezko was seen in U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office, along with his attorneys.
There has been no official confirmation that Rezko is talking, but his sentencing has been postponed indefinitely and both sides say they are going to “engage in discussions that could affect their sentencing postures.”
Rezko has raised millions of dollars in campaign money for many Illinois politicians and according to federal prosecutors used his clout to control appointments to state boards.
Obama has sent to charity $159,000 that Rezko raised for his campaigns for the state Legislature, the House and the Senate. Rezko raised nothing for Obama's White House run.
Obama's name came up in testimony at the trial four times, twice in connection with an obscure legislative memo, as a guest at a Rezko party and when defense attorney Joseph Duffy told jurors his client was a friend of the senator.
None of the witnesses accused the Democratic nominee for president of doing anything improper. In June, Duffy told the Chicago Tribune that prosecutors had not asked him a single question about Obama.
But questions concerning Obama's relationship with Rezko linger, particularly over Rezko's role in the purchase of the Obama's home.
The two have known each other for years, starting when Rezko offered Obama a job after he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991. Obama didn't take it, but a friendship developed.
The men talked politics frequently and occasionally dined together with their wives.
In 2005, the Obamas paid $1.65 million for their home near the University of Chicago. The sellers wanted a parcel they owned next door to sell on the same day, and Rezko's wife, Rita, was the buyer. At the request of the Obamas, Mrs. Rezko later sold them a 10-foot strip of land to enlarge their lot. They paid $104,500.
The deal took place while Rezko was under investigation and when details of the cozy relationship surfaced, Obama said it was a “bonehead” error to have asked for the additional land because it looked like he was getting a favor.
“I regret it,” Obama said at the time. “I'm going to make sure that from this point on I don't even come close to the line.”