The Campaign Spot

The Rezko Scandal, In a Nutshell

I’ve been hunting for a succinct way of summarizing the Tony Rezko scandal (inspired by Hugh), so that it can break through the noise, and reach those who think it’s about a really obscure land deal, and involves complicated financial transactions.

Here’s my attempt: Barack Obama would not be living in the Chicago mansion that he calls home if it had not been for Tony Rezko. The previous owner was only willing to sell the mansion property along with an adjacent vacant lot. Rezko’s wife agreed to buy the vacant lot while the Obamas bought the mansion. This purchase occurred in 2005, after Obama became a U.S. Senator.
In the trial in Chicago going on right now, the U.S. Attorney seeks to prove the extent of Rezko’s corruption and criminal activities, charging him with mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and attempted extortion charges.
The AP has put together a good Q and A:

Q: What is his relationship to Obama?

A: He’s been friendly with Obama for years, even offering him a job after Obama finished law school. Obama turned down the offer, but a political friendship developed. Rezko and his family donated at least $21,457 to Obama – and helped raise tens of thousands more – for his campaigns in Illinois, though not for his presidential bid. He also advised Obama on the purchase of a new Chicago home and, in his wife’s name, purchased a vacant lot next to the new Obama home at the same time.

Q: Why is Rezko on trial?

A: Prosecutors allege he tried to shake down companies seeking contracts from Illinois regulatory boards for campaign contributions and payoffs. They say he used his influence with Gov. Rod Blagojevich to get people appointed to the boards and then threatened to have them block contracts unless the companies paid millions of dollars in kickbacks.

Q: What does that have to do with Obama?

A: Nothing. No one has alleged that Obama has anything to do with the charges against Rezko, nor has Obama been charged with any wrongdoing. Obama has donated to charity the money that Rezko donated to his campaigns, as well as money from other Rezko friends and partners, a total of $150,000…

Interjection from Jim: Nothing that we know of so far. We didn’t know until a month ago that Rezko toured the property with Obama before the purchase. If there was anything scandalous going on, it seems safe to assume that these guys would try to keep it secret.

Q: Did Obama and Rezko coordinate their purchases?

A: Obama says they didn’t. He says Rezko became interested in the lot while advising him on the house and then bought the land on his own, for $625,000.

Q: Where did Rezko get the money to buy the lot?

A: That’s not clear. Some court documents related to his criminal case show that at the time of the land purchase, creditors were pursuing Rezko for more than $10 million. Rezko argues in the case documents that he is essentially broke now. This raises the question of how he was able to come up with $125,000 and a $500,000 mortgage to buy the property. He later resold the lot at a profit.

Did Tony Rezko buy Obama’s house? No. But he made it possible for Obama to buy his house. He did him a favor to the tune of $625,000. What, exactly, did Rezko expect in return from the U.S. Senator?

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