The connection has dogged Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) ever since it was first reported in November of 2006. With Tony Rezko's trial finally beginning this week, and with the trial expected to last for months, it will keep dogging him.
You know the general outline. In June of 2005, Obama bought a home in Chicago's South Side. On the same day, Tony Rezko bought an adjoining lot, the house's side yard. It was not an isolated association between the two. Rezko was a big-time fundraiser and supporter of Obama, who raised more than $150,000 for Obama's state and federal campaigns over the span of nine years ($20,000 of that was from Rezko himself). Over the past 16 months, Obama has donated almost $160,000 of those Rezko-linked contributions to charity.
Rezko, a big-time real estate developer and mucky-muck in Illinois politics, was indicted in October of 2006 on fraud and extortion charges.
Although Obama's longterm relationship with Rezko has gained plenty of scrutiny, the house purchase has understandably gotten the most. Given Rezko's central role in Illinois' influence-buying and cronyism scandal, suspicion is natural. Obama himself has called his subsequent purchase of a strip of the adjoining lot from Rezko "bone-headed." It's hard not to agree.
There is no sure evidence that the house deal was worse than bone-headed. Not that the question has been put to rest. A number of unanswered questions remain.
For instance, it's unclear whether Rezko was actually doing a favor for Obama: whether Obama could not have bought the house otherwise or whether Obama derived a financial benefit from Rezko's involvement in the deal. The main suspicion has been that Rezko's purchase of the side yard at the seller's asking price allowed Obama's purchase of the house to go through since the seller insisted on closing both properties on the same day. But both Obama and Rezko have said that someone else had bid on the side yard, raising the bidding to the asking price. If that's the case, then Obama could have bought the house without Rezko's involvement. And Obama has said that his family has stayed off the side yard and never used it for family activities.
Obama has acknowleged, however, that Rezko's likely motivation for buying the lot was to curry favor with him. Rezko reportedly admitted as much to his business associates. And as The New York Times reports today, Rezko was so heavily in debt at the time he purchased the lot that he did it under his wife's name in order to protect it from creditors.
And then there's the other big question, whether Obama ever did anything for Rezko in return for his purchase of the side yard or all those contributions. Obama has said that Rezko "never asked me for anything" and "Iâve never done any favors for him.â No substantial evidence has surfaced to contradict that claim. (The Chicago Sun-Times did dig up letters from Obama in 1998, some seven years before the house sale, urging Illinois and Chicago officials to provide funding for a Rezko company to build apartments for senior citizens, but both Obama and Rezko denied that Rezko had asked Obama to write the letters, and there's no evidence to the contrary.)
As Rezko's trial nears, you're sure to hear the two names raised together again and again. And you'll be hearing about that house purchase. So we're laying it all out here. We've compiled the main details in our timeline of Rezko and Obama's relationship here.
Recently, NBC News got a good aerial view of the Obama's home and side lot, which is now owned by Michael Sreenan, a former business attorney of Rezko's:
Back in 2004, the home's owner put both parcels on the market. There was no fence between the two properties, since the undeveloped land served as the house's side yard, but the properties were listed separately.
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