Monday, October 16, 2006
The rise and fall of Tony Rezko
Antoin “ Tony” Rezko, 51, a millionaire businessman in Chicago area was indicted on allegations that he used his influence with governor Rod Blagojevich to extort money from companies that seek business with the state.
Rezko is a key Blagojevich fundraiser and adviser, and has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the governor campaign as well as to other state and city public officials.
The indictment alleges that Rezko along with co-conspirator Stuart Levin attempted to force businesses to pay certain associates finders and consultant fees in the range of millions of dollars before in order to be approved to do business with the state.The scheme according to the indictment and reports in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Suntimes worked like this:
Tony Rezko because of his influence with the governor recommends certain people to be appointed by the governor on State’s boards, commissions, and agencies who in turn would compel companies that seek to do business with the state to pay finder’s fees to consultants and other intermediary as well as make donations to Blagojevich campaign.
State agencies and Commissions such as the Teachers Pensions Funds have Billions of dollars to be invested. Board members appointed by governor can decided on companies that seek contracts with those commissions.
Some of this money finds its way to Rezko and Levine.
In one such cases the Chicago Tribune reported last Wednesday that:
“In one instance, the indictment alleges that Levine used his influence on the pension board in 2004 to withhold a planned allocation of $220 million in funds unless a kickback of $2 million was paid to a consultant of Rezko's and Levine's choosing or arrange for $1.5 million in campaign contributions to be made to an unnamed public official”
Rezko’s rise to prominence in the past two decades is something of an American dream success story. Born in Halab (Aleppo) Syria and moved to Chicago after high school and graduating from Illinois institute of Technology in degree in Engineering.
Rezko’s businesses and interests are wide and far, from communication company, to inner city rehab company that renovates buildings in low-income areas to Pizza. He reportedly owns between 25-30 Pizza restaurants named Papa Tony’s Pizza, after Papa John Pizza franchise terminated its affiliation with him.
Papa Tony’s Pizza is in financial trouble however, and Rezko might have sold it off.
Tony Rezko was scheduled to appear in court this past Friday but failed to appear due to his travel overseas. The FBI issued a warrant for his arrest. Patrick Fitzgerald the assistant US attorney for the Northern district of Illinois said that he will seek to designate Rizko a “ Fugitive” if he did not appear for last Friday hearing.
Rezko attorney Joseph Duffy, however, was able to convince the judge to give Rezko until the end of this week to make it back to the United Satiates to answer the charges against him.
The FBI in a statement said that Rezko was last know to have been in Amman Jordan and that he check out of his hotel and paid in cash.
Robert Grant Special agent in charge of the FBI, promised more indictments in this federal investigation dubbed “ Operation Board Game”
"This is a gathering storm of an investigation with a goal of rooting out the parasites that have plagued our public institutions," Grant said. "Our investigative efforts and those of our partners are ongoing, methodical, aggressive and relentless."
The Democratic Club
The Democratic club is an Arab American organization in Chicago area, and like its name, it is just a club of wealthy Arab American businessmen who held fundraising events for the democratic governor (last one was 2 weeks ago) and other democratic candidates.
The Democratic club seems to be a Rezko’s creature because some of the principle players in it are close associates of Rezko and were recommended and gotten state jobs by Rezko.
Ali Ata is one such associate and a Democratic club associate and who had gotten himself in a lot of trouble over his appointment to the finance commission without having any finance experience and subsequently resigned amid allegations of misconduct.
Ali Ata’s appointment would fit the pattern made by Rezko and his other associates.
They recommend people to the State jobs in order to personally profit financially and channel some of that money back to elections campaigns.
Arab Americans have long sought inclusion and access to the levers of power in Chicago politics and the state, in part to improve their lot as a community and to participate in the decisions that might effect and shape their lives.
This however, was a scam the community had nothing to do with it nor anyone benefited from it except those who bought themselves jobs with the state.
The democratic club was not a community organization per se, it was a club of people who deliberately seek to make donations to democratic campaigns in exchange for jobs for themselves and their families.
That was the trade off.
Another new organization in the Arab community with an eye on "votes" and " Voting" American Middle Eastern Alliance, is the name of this new organization,www.amvote.org, and is headed by Republican powerhouse, Talat Othman, and Bill Haddad a democratic cook county Judge,some of the members are : Attorney Rohey Shalabi who was appointed by Mayor Daley to the Park Distict, and Shafiq Budran of ADC.Dr.Emil Totanchi, one of the top doctors in chicago area. All of these men I personally know,and highly respect, however, the question is whether such efforts, albeit in good faith, would lead to empowerment of the community or lead to further disenfranchisement. The Rezko scandal should serve us an example that too much power sometimes corrupts the best of men.
We know from experience that Mayor Daley likes to encourage ethnic communities in Chicago to form their own Democratic organizations with the help from City Hall.
We also know that the Hispanic Democratic Organization and its founding leaders the Mayor's Hispanic hands,were under Federal investigation and indictments were issued against some of it leaders accused of corruption, giving city jobs to friends and buddies, muscles voters to vote a certain way, and practically serve as the Mayor's foot soldiers in the Hispanic community.
The Mosque Foundation and the Park district.
In another looming scandal, the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, better known as the Harlem Mosque has decided to make an unprecedented donation of $100-150.000 to the Chicago park district at the former down town airport Meigs Field which was converted (City’s bulldozers plowed the runways in the middle of the night to head off any opposition) into a park by Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley.
What’s strange about this donation is that it’s coming from a religious institution, a non-for profit entity that depends on donations of the community to run its affairs.
In addition, the Mosque is not in the city of Chicago to begin with, and has nothing to do with the city of Chicago, let alone a park in a down town area.
Opposition to this donation is spearheaded by attorney Omar Najib , an attorney and a voting member of the Mosque foundation.
Najib accuses long time Harlem’s mosque imam, Sheik Jamal Said of forcing this donation on the Mosque board for political and personal reasons.
Sheik Jamal Said is a shrewd fundraiser, under his stewardship; the Mosque has become a multi million-dollar operation. Said is known to have collected millions of dollars from the community. He collected almost 2 million dollars during a month of Ramadan alone. One million dollar in one night and in a span of one hour.!
Attorney Omar Najib told me that he is considering filing a lawsuit against Sheik Jamal Said and attorney Rohey Shalabi to prevent this donation form going through.
Rohey Shalabi is the Mosque attorney and was appointed as a Park district commissioner by Mayor Daley a few years ago.
“ I was told by Mosque members that this donation (to the park district) is a PR for the Mosque” said Omar Najib when I asked him about why would the Mosque make this donation.
But Najib thinks that there are other political reasons behind this donation, which he thinks it has to do with Sheik Jamal Said.