Antoin Rezko has plenty of connections to Barack Obama. A Chicago businessman and real estate developer, Rezko was a longtime fundraiser for Obama's political campaigns. He helped rally support for the young state senator and came to the Obamas' aid in 2005 when they were attempting to buy a home. Their favorite house was being sold together with an empty lot next door—a combination Obama has said he couldn't afford. Enter Rezko, who was already under federal investigation. To help the Obamas satisfy the seller, Rezko had his wife purchase the adjoining lot at the same time. Not long after, she sold the Obamas a 10-foot parcel of land to expand their yard. It was an arrangement that led some to question whether the Obamas got a special deal.
Though Obama has since called these dealings "boneheaded," they are not the subject of the federal criminal trial now underway against Rezko.
Influence. Instead, the case against Rezko centers on his influence with another prominent politico: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, one of many state politicians Rezko helped to raise campaign cash. Charged with fraud, attempted extortion, money laundering, and aiding bribery, Rezko is accused of trying to extort millions of dollars from firms attempting to do business with the teachers' pension board and state hospital regulatory panel. Prosecutors allege that Rezko used his influence to get friends on the government boards, who then demanded kickbacks from potential contractors. One of his main allies, Stuart Levine, pleaded guilty to the scheme and is now the government's main witness against Rezko.
Testimony from the criminal trial, which began in March, has so far painted an unflattering portrait of favoritism under Blagojevich's tenure, although the governor is not charged with any crime. Obama's name, too, has come up during the trial but mostly as a side note. Prosecutors have said some of the money Rezko gained from the scheme ended up in Obama's campaign coffers. He has since donated that money to charity.
Still, the indictment of a onetime ally—someone Obama says he once trusted—has cast a shadow over the senator's judgment. At least, Obama can console himself that he was hardly the only Illinois politician to get snookered.