Friday, June 27, 2008

Obama's Future Haunted By Corrupt Chicago Ties

If Sen. Barack Obama and his supporters thought his old ties to convicted political fixer Tony Rezko were just going to fade away, they better think again. Federal court documents just unsealed from the corruption trial of Obama's long-time friend and political supporter indicate that federal prosecutors were holding back on Rezko's ties to Obama. Those documents show that Judge Amy St. Eve had given a green light to prosecutors to offer testimony about Rezko's illegal fundraising efforts on behalf of Obama, but in the end, federal prosecutors never mentioned Obama's name, although defense lawyers did on a few occasions. The Sun-Times Natasha Korecki writes:

Newly unsealed documents show that prosecutors sought to call witnesses to testify about Rezko's ties to Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.

The Illinois senator was the recipient of "straw" campaign contributions made by others on behalf of Rezko -- money that Obama has since given to charities.

The documents indicate that prosecutors considered offering witnesses to explore why Rezko used others to contribute to Obama and also to Blagojevich, and U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve ruled that they could. But they did not end up offering any such testimony during the trial.

"Witnesses will testify that Rezko was a long-standing supporter and fund-raiser of Barack Obama," prosecutors wrote.

Obama seemed to have anticipated this bad news a couple of days ago when he made this outlandish claim that he had avoided city and state corruption in Illinois. The Sun-Times' Abadon Pallasch quotes Obama:

"You will recall that for my entire political career here, I was not the the endorsed candidate of any political organization here," the Democratic presidential hopeful said at the Westin Hotel downtown. "I didn't go around wielding a bunch of clout. My reputation in Springfield was as an independent. There is no doubt I had friends and continue to have friends who come out of the more traditional school of Chicago politics but that's not what launched my political career and that's not what I've ever depended on to get elected, and I would challenge any Chicago reporter to dispute that basic fact."

Obama's claims of not being a part of the organization in Illinois are laughable. His bids for public office in Illinois have enjoyed support from Mayor Richard Daley and Obama is close to Senate President Pro Tempore Emil Jones and Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Top Obama advisers, including Valerie Jarrett and Marti Nesbitt, have also held key positions in Daley's city administration. Speaking of Blagojevich, he claims the government's witnesses lied to jurors in Rezko's trial about conversations he had with the witnesses concerning how business for the investment of the state's pension funds were determined, and he was interviewed by federal agents extensively about those conversations. On that subject, it appears that Obama's former law partner and close friend, Allison Davis, took advantage of his position as a state pension board member. This Sun-Times story explains this latest development:

In July 2004, state pension board member Allison S. Davis voted to turn over as much as $100 million in state workers' retirement cash to an investment management firm.

Months after it won the lucrative deal at Davis' urging, that investment firm hired Davis.

RREEF America REIT II Inc. agreed to pay the Chicago developer $30,000 a year to take a part-time post on its board of directors, even as Davis continued to serve on the Illinois State Board of Investment.

There were questions about the legality of the dual roles. According to Illinois law, "No member of the board shall have any interest in any brokerage fee, commission or other profit or gain arising out of any investment made by the board." But the state board got a legal opinion that Davis could hold both posts as long as he didn't vote on any future state deals for RREEF, a real estate investment trust.

Davis is a 67-year-old lawyer and real estate developer with long ties to Mayor Daley and Sen. Barack Obama, as well as to the governor.

He served on the Chicago Plan Commission and, with his former law firm, Davis Miner Barnhill & Galland, was a boss to Obama early in the presidential hopeful's career.

Davis was appointed to the unpaid post on the state pension board Feb. 13, 2003. On July 22, 2004, he recommended that the agency give RREEF up to $100 million to invest. RREEF was already handling $55 million for the board.

The next day, Davis voted to approve RREEF's deal.

In February 2005, RREEF agreed to put Davis on its board. He began working as a paid board member that April, state records show.

Obama's ties to the pension board scandal aren't limited to Davis. John Rodgers is chief finance director for Obama's campaign and identified as one of his closest presidential campaign advisers. He is the founder of Ariel Investment. As a state senator, Obama appeared before the state pension board to urge the use of more minority-owned businesses, including Ariel. After Obama's pitch, state pension assets managed by Ariel grew substantially. After U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald began investigating Rezko and other sleazebag influence peddlers for using corrupt influence to affect the awarding of investments through kickbacks, the Illinois Teacher Retirement System severed its ties with Ariel, citing insufficient returns on investments.

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