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8 things you need to know about Obama and Rezko

Tale in national spotlight, thanks to Clinton

By Tim Novak
Chicago Sun Times
January 24, 2008

All of a sudden, seems as if everybody's talking about Barack Obama and Tony Rezko. Even Jay Leno.

Rezko already was a big story in Chicago, accused of influence-peddling in the Blagojevich administration and set to face trial Feb. 25.

But Monday, he became national news -- and an issue in the presidential race. That's when Hillary Clinton blasted Obama for having represented "your contributor, Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner-city Chicago."

Having a hard time keeping track of the facts? Here are eight things to know:

1. They met in 1990. Obama was a student at Harvard Law School and got an unsolicited job offer from Rezko, then a low-income housing developer in Chicago. Obama turned it down.

2. Obama took a job in 1993 with a small Chicago law firm, Davis Miner Barnhill, that represents developers -- primarily not-for-profit groups -- building low-income housing with government funds.

3. One of the firm's not-for-profit clients -- the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corp., co-founded by Obama's then-boss Allison Davis -- was partners with Rezko's company in a 1995 deal to convert an abandoned nursing home at 61st and Drexel into low-income apartments. Altogether, Obama spent 32 hours on the project, according to the firm. Only five hours of that came after Rezko and WPIC became partners, the firm says. The rest of the future senator's time was helping WPIC strike the deal with Rezko. Rezko's company, Rezmar Corp., also partnered with the firm's clients in four later deals -- none of which involved Obama, according to the firm. In each deal, Rezmar "made the decisions for the joint venture," says William Miceli, an attorney with the firm.

4. In 1995, Obama began campaigning for a seat in the Illinois Senate. Among his earliest supporters: Rezko. Two Rezko companies donated a total of $2,000. Obama was elected in 1996 -- representing a district that included 11 of Rezko's 30 low-income housing projects.

5. Rezko's low-income housing empire began crumbling in 2001, when his company stopped making mortgage payments on the old nursing home that had been converted into apartments. The state foreclosed on the building -- which was in Obama's Illinois Senate district.

6. In 2003, Obama announced he was running for the U.S. Senate, and Rezko -- a member of his campaign finance committee -- held a lavish fund-raiser June 27, 2003, at his Wilmette mansion.

7. A few months after Obama became a U.S. senator, he and Rezko's wife, Rita, bought adjacent pieces of property from a doctor in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood -- a deal that has dogged Obama the last two years. The doctor sold the mansion to Obama for $1.65 million -- $300,000 below the asking price. Rezko's wife paid full price -- $625,000 -- for the adjacent vacant lot. The deals closed in June 2005. Six months later, Obama paid Rezko's wife $104,500 for a strip of her land, so he could have a bigger yard. At the time, it had been widely reported that Tony Rezko was under federal investigation. Questioned later about the timing of the Rezko deal, Obama called it "boneheaded" because people might think the Rezkos had done him a favor.

8. Eight months later -- in October 2006 -- Rezko was indicted on charges he solicited kickbacks from companies seeking state pension business under his friend Gov. Blagojevich. Federal prosecutors maintain that $10,000 from the alleged kickback scheme was donated to Obama's run for the U.S. Senate. Obama has given the money to charity.



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