Obama-Rezko relationship under scrutiny

Antoin Rezko, a Syrian-born transplant with an engineering degree and an appetite for Chicago real estate, is currently facing federal money laundering, fraud and extortion charges for business deals he tried to commandeer for the Illinois Teachers Retirement System Board and the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. He’s also charged with staging false transactions on the books of his Pappa John’s pizza stores in order to secure $10 million in loans from GE Capital.

Pals since the early 1990’s, Barack Obama and Rezko “did a deal together” in January 2006, where Obama purchased property from Rezko to enlarge his (the senator’s) yard in Chicago’s southside Kenwood neighborhood. “The transaction occurred at a time when it was widely known Rezko was under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Obama has called the deal “a mistake,” and has said he regrets it took place, though he really enjoys the bigger yard.

Prior to that, Obama had employed a Rezko-recommended Intern in his Senate office in July and August, 2005. The Sun-Times reported this relationship in December, 2006. While that’s not shifty in and of itself, it does add a layer to the Obama-Rezko relationship.

And today, the AP reports that in the late 1990’s, Rezko’s company managed a bevy of dilapidated apartments in Chicago, and called upon Obama’s law firm to assist in securing millions in government-backed rehab money for them. It’s unclear whether Obama himself actually helped with the legal work to secure all that government funding, though others in his law firm certainly did. Reported the Sun-Times:

“(But) Obama did legal work on real estate deals while at (top partner Allison S.) Davis’ firm, according to biographical information he submitted to the Sun-Times in 1998. Obama specialized ‘in civil rights litigation, real estate financing, acquisition, construction and/or redevelopment of low-and moderate income housing,’ according to his ‘biographical sketch.’”

Despite the millions Rezko received for rehabbing the apartment buildings, they eventually went to foreclosure or other legal action, including lawsuits, initiated by the city. About a third of them were in the State Senate District that Barack Obama represented at the time.

Asked if he knew that his pal Rezko was the slumlord of the run-down apartments in his district, Obama said, “Should I have known these buildings were in a state of disrepair? My answer would be that it wasn’t brought to my attention.”

Whoa, nice skirt! Obama is saying, essentially, that he worked in a law firm where his expertise in the redevelopment of low- and moderate-income housing was touted, and that he was a State Senator representing the district in which the buildings were located, and that Antoin Rezko is a friend and neighbor – but that he didn’t realize the buildings for which his firm was securing federal rehab money were run-down.

Make no mistake, what’s really going on here is that Obama has a friend who dabbles in (and gets indicted for) shady deals. They’re lining each other’s pockets (Rezko has been a key fundraiser for various Illinois Democrats, including Obama) and the depth of their relationship is being probed by reporters who are no doubt torn between wanting to be the next Woodward or Bernstein and wanting to see the Savior of the Democratic Party win the White House.

The deals and manifestations of the relationship are actually pretty small potatoes. But they show that even Golden Boy Obama is not immune to bad judgment, backroom dealing, and tit-for-tat favoritism. Be warned, America – sometimes you get what you wish for.

Editor’s note. “Despite the millions Rezko received for rehabbing the apartment buildings, they eventually went to foreclosure or other legal action…” OMG, Solyndra, anyone?? This post originally appeared in April, 2007.

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