May 19, 2008 Evelyn Pringle
To understand how the Combine works in Illinois it's important to recognize that the state is divided into three levels of political clout, beginning with Chicago, Cook County and the state of Illinois, according to Chicago columnist Ray Hanania.
It's also important to remember that in December 2004, when Obama went house-hunting with his real estate fairy Tony Rezko, he did not consider the adverse effects on his presidential bid because Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was still the candidate.
Rezko knew the Feds were after him and even hired an attorney prior to December. During his bond hearing on January 16, 2007, the judge asked him, "when did you first become aware that you were under federal investigation?"
"Your Honor," he said, "officially we were never told; but, over a year ago, maybe two years ago."
"Okay," the judge said, "You were not told -- well, they may (not) have told you that you were a target, but you have had Mr. Duffy for a while."
"When did you first hire Mr. Duffy?" she asked.
"Two years now," Rezko replied. Duffy clarified the situation stating: "I believe it was '04, your Honor. Sometime in '04."
The "Mr I did not know candidate"
Throughout his campaign, Obama has publicly claimed he was unaware that Rezko was under investigation for influence peddling in the months leading up to the time he bought the mansion in June 2005. In fact, he will still only admit that he should have known by the time he bought part of the lot next door from Rita Rezko in January 2006.
On December 17, 2006, the Washington Post reported, “Obama said that he was unaware of Rezko's brewing troubles in 2005.”
In an interview, Post reporter Peter Slevin said to Obama: "You must have been aware he was under investigation, no?"
According to the transcript posted by ABC News, Obama stated: "I wasn't particularly knowledgeable about these various issues that he was involved with, but as I've said before, there's no doubt that I should have seen some red flags in terms of me purchasing a piece of property from him."
On November 11, 2007, he was interviewed on Meet the Press. "Tony Rezko, who is he?" Tim Russert asked. "He is a developer in Illinois," Obama replied, and further explained:
"He was a friend of mine for, for over 10 years. He was, he was a supporter of Democrats and Republicans back in Illinois. He was indicted recently for issues completely unrelated to me, but obviously it’s a source of concern because he’s not only a friend but also a supporter of my campaign."
In addition to campaign contributions, Russert told Obama, Rezko "was always there to be very helpful to you at certain times."
He pointed out, "you bought property adjacent to each other, you bought land from him to expand your backyard."
"This was all after he had been - it had been reported he was under federal investigation," Russert said. "Why were you associating with such a person?" he asked Obama.
"The, the purchase of the land was after he—it was reported that he was under federal investigation," Obama replied.
As late as January 23, 2008, Obama appeared on the morning news shows claiming he did not know Rezko was involved in corruption with statements like:
"The facts are this. This is somebody who was active in politics in Illinois, who I knew. Nobody had any indications that he was engaging in wrong-doing."
"Nobody had an inkling that he was involved in any problems."
Two months later, during a March 14, interview with the Tribune, he was still claiming not to know Rezko was in trouble in June 2005. “When did you first realize that Tony Rezko might be involved in the kind of influence peddling that [he stands on trial for doing]?” Tribune reporters asked Obama
“I had no indication that he was doing anything illegal, and since he's on trial, I don't want to characterize what he did or did not do.”
As noted previously, in the media Obama’s description of his relationship with Rezko was always casual saying they had breakfast or lunch once or twice a year without deviation. But FBI mole John Thomas says he logged frequent visits to Rezko in 2004 and 2005 from both Obama and Blagojevich.
During his interview with the Times, regarding Rezko, Obama said, ”I have not talked to him since he was indicted.”
However, he apparently forgot to mention that three weeks after Rezko was indicted, and just two days before Blagojevich’s reelection in November 2006, his wife Michelle was the special guest of honor at a charity fashion show, organized and sponsored by the wives of top members of the “Combine.”
Rita Rezko with her position on the Cook County Employees Appeals Board, chaired the event and the honorary co-chairperson was Blagojevich's wife, Patti.
The show’s sponsoring committee included Michael Rumman’s wife, Hollie, Blagojevich's former spokeswoman, Cheryle Jackson, who became the head the Chicago Urban League, and Becky Chipparoni, whose husband, Guy, was the press secretary for then secretary of state Jim Edgar, and heads a public-relations firm which represented Rezko's businesses.
On the campaign rainmaker’s day in June 2003, Guy Chipparoni gave Obama $2,000. All total, he also threw $11,000 into Blogajevich’s campaign coffers.
Stories in the Chicago media include a trail to Rita's mortgage holder for the lot, the Mutual Bank of Harvey, and may provide clues to the mystery of how Rita and Obama were able to conceal the asset while creditors were pounding at the Rezko’s door.
According to an October 26, 2006, Tribune report, since 2002, “Mutual Bank has lent more than $3.4 million to Rezko and his partners in three deals.”
In one case the Tribune found, the bank lent $1.32 million to Rezko on several pieces of property that were deeded back and forth between Rezko partners both before and after the loan was secured. “Banking experts said such moves raise questions about who owned the property used as collateral for the loan,” the Tribune wrote.
Amrish Mahajan is president of the Mutual Bank, which had requests pending before state banking regulators to acquire two out-of-state banks, according to the report.
Amrish donated $10,000 to Blagojevich's campaigns. He also contributed $500 to Obama on December 20, 2003, and gave him another $1,000 on April 14, 2004. Amrish is also a supporter of Mayor Daley, who once appointed him to the Chicago Plan Commission.
The Tribune reported that, “Blagojevich's wife earned more than $113,000 in real estate commissions this year through a woman who holds a longstanding, no-bid state contract.”
The four deals involving Anita and Amrish Mahajan, account for the only commissions Patricia Blagojevich has earned this year, the Tribune noted.
Anita's company had a drug-testing contract with the Department of Children and Family Services worth about $739,000 that year, the Tribune said. On March 9, 2007, the Sun-Times reported that prosecutors said Anita “used lucrative no-bid contracts to steal $2.1 million from taxpayers while lying about her company's tax status.”
The fraud had been going on since at least 2002 and lasted until October 2006. Mahajan was charged with six felonies, including organizing and participating in a continuing financial crimes enterprise, with the most serious charge carry penalties of up to 30 years in prison, the Times said.
As discussed previously, the Rezko case is the first of many set for trial but Operation Board Games is not the Rezko case. Many of the co-schemers have already pleaded guilty and will be heading to prison after cooperating in exchange for a reduced sentence. Because these defendants avoided public trials, there are no day-to-day reports with names splashed all over the media describing their participation in the schemes.
Several individuals have been charged with crimes unrelated to Rezko's case and are awaiting trials of their own. Others have not been indicted - yet. "Public Official," Blagojevich will likely be an indictee soon.
The other "political candidate" identified as receiving cash
In January 2005, the same month Obama was sworn into the US Senate, an election funded by the same Combine members who contributed to Blagojevich, he submitted bids for a $2 million mansion at a time when the Chicago media was broadcasting the fact that the investigations into Blagojevich’s contributions and influence peddling were escalating.
On January 8, 2005, the Sun-Time broke the story that Blagojevich's father-in-law, city Alderman Richard Mell, said he had been displaced within Blagojevich's political circle by Christopher Kelly, who "trades appointments to commissions for checks for $50,000" to the governor's political fund. The report also noted that Kelly’s sister “landed a $91,000-a-year state job under Blagojevich."
When asked for details, Mell told the Tribune on January 12, 2005, he was basing his charges on articles in the Tribune in November 2004. For those articles, the Tribune examined donations by appointees after discovering that two members of the "scandal-plagued Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board" were connected to $25,000 donations to Blagojevich within weeks of their appointments. In the review, the Tribune looked at contributions by the appointees or companies they owned or controlled, and reported:
"The analysis found that $1.1 million of the donations--the bulk of the money donated to Blagojevich's campaign from appointees--arrived after the 2002 gubernatorial election. It also identified 25 appointees who donated at least $25,000 to Blagojevich's campaign individually or through their companies."
The Chicago media did not report the contributions made to Obama's US senate campaign by the Planning Board appointees even though Obama was the inside guy in the Illinois senate who pushed the legislation through that made it possible for the pay-to-play scheme to be set up with the Planning Board and recommended the approval of the appointees.
On January 14, 2005, the Sun-Times reported that the "explosive accusation" that top jobs may be for sale took a dramatic turn "when Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine announced a joint investigation into the matter."
Madigan's office requested from Blagojevich, "a roster of all appointees he has named to the dozens of state boards and commissions" under his control since taking office. Also sought, the Times said, "were the names, job titles and agencies of all other state employees that have been hired "in any capacity under the jurisdiction of the governor" since January 2003."
Bid-rigging at O'Hare Airport by Obama contributors
Headlines in the Chicago media between December 2004 and January 2006, about the co-schemers partnering with Rezko in fast food businesses provide a trail of proof that Obama had full knowledge of the investigation into influence peddling in the awarding of lucrative contracts at the Illinois Tollway.
On January 14, 2005 the Sun-Times pointed out that Christopher Kelly "runs a roofing venture that has received multimillion-dollar city contracts for work at O'Hare and Midway airports, and he has donated and loaned hundreds of thousands of dollars to Blagojevich's campaign."
As far back as May 28, 2004, the Times noted that Kelly had business ties with Rezko, in a “group of more than 80" Midwestern Panda Express restaurants, a venture headed by Rezko and Andrew Cherng. On February 13, 2005, the Tribune reported:
"The Subway sandwich shops and Panda Express Asian restaurants now being installed in the tollway's seven revamped rest stops are controlled by firms with strong ties to the food-service empire," of Tony Rezko, "a Blagojevich confidant who has seeded the governor's cabinet with former business underlings,"
Kelly, who also recommended the Tollway's executive director for his job, "is an investor in at least one Rezko-controlled food firm," the Tribune noted. Kelly is an investor in Rezko Concessions, Rezko's portion of the joint venture with Panda Express. Chaib is a director of Rezko Concessions. The Tribune also explained:
"The $83 million oases overhaul is being overseen by Los Angeles-based developer Wilton Partners, whose owner delivered a $50,000 personal check to the Blagojevich campaign just weeks after the governor announced with great fanfare the launch of the work."
Blagojevich received the $50,000 on July 25, 2003. Not mentioned is the fact that Wilton donated $5,000 to Obama’s campaign on July 16, 2003.
Under the Tollway contract, “Exxon/Mobile and Wilton are investing $94 million and will then get to run the businesses at the stops along the tollways,” according to the April 4, 2004 State Journal Register.
In addition to doling out campaign cash, in January 2004, Wilton Partners bankrolled a Blagojevich fundraising trip in California. “Wilton Partners ... provided the governor's entourage with $33,000 worth of transportation and $1,841 for meals and entertainment at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles,” the Register reported. Rezko himself spent nearly $45,000 on transportation, meals, lodging and entertainment, the Tribune reported.
Documents obtained by the Tribune show the Subway franchises are owned by a company run by Chaib. In addition to his ties to Rezko, the Tribune notes, Chaib donated $10,000 to the Blagojevich campaign fund run by Kelly. "With Kelly as chairman, Blagojevich's campaign operation has raised more than $37 million in a little over four years."
But here again, Chaib’s $5,000 donation to Obama US senate fund on June 30, 2003 is not mentioned.
Philip Mesi, the president of Subway Development Corp, also gave Obama $2,000 on the red-letter day of June 30. He also threw him $10,000 six months later on December 31, 2003, and gave another $1,000 on June 10, 2005.
Roughly four months before Obama bought the 10-feet of land, the October 5, 2005 Sun-Times reported that at least one official hired by Blagojevich's administration wore a wire as part of the “ongoing investigation of the governor's hiring practices,” and noted that “three rounds of federal subpoenas” had been delivered to his administration.
Also in October 2005, news came that the Feds had subpoenaed records from all Tollway vendors with connections to Rezko. And finally, less than 2 weeks before the lot deal was sealed, on December 31, 2005, the Tribune reported that prosecutors had “opened a new avenue” in their investigation of pay-to-play politics in “subpoenaing the tollway authority for information about oases contracts with links to key political insiders.”
The subpoena sought records related to contracts with Subway, Panda Express and other oases vendors, the Associated Press said, and among the subpoenaed records were contracts with companies tied “to political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, oases Subways owned by Rezko associate Abdelhamid Chaib.”
In addition to the food service contracts, the Tribune noted, “the subpoena also seeks records involving information about Los Angeles-based developer Wilton Partners.”
The subpoena also sought lease agreements and correspondence involving Rezko, Subway, Panda Express, Famiglia DeBartolo Leasing Group, and DB Pizza, tollway officials told the Tribune.
Abdelhamid Chaib is a co-schemer in the Board Game case related to fraudulent loans obtained from General Electric Corp and the sale of the Papa John's pizza restaurants.
Minority owned business rackets fund Obama
The uproar in the media over the rigging of contracts meant to be awarded to minority owned companies in the set-aside program, involving Rezko's Panda Express restaurants at O'Hare also began in January 2005, the same month that Obama and Rezko were bidding on the mansion and lot.
In order to receive certification as a minority owned business, companies are required to be owned and operated by Hispanics, African-Americans or women. They are also required to report any changes in the ownership or operation of the company.
On a state level, Blagojevich appointed Jack Lavin director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The DCEO administers “programs and services designed to help Illinois businesses thrive,” according to its web site. The site also states:
“This includes a strong emphasis on programs designed to provide small businesses -- particularly minority and female entrepreneurs -- with the resources they need to succeed and grow their business opportunities.”
Lavin is a former CFO of Rezko Enterprises, a company described as, “a $100 million firm that operates more than 150 Panda Express and Papa John's Pizza outlets, primarily in the Midwest,” on the DCEO‘s web site in April 2004, according to the Journal-Register.
As noted earlier in this series, Lavin sent a letter urging approval of Mercy’s new hospital in the Planning Board pay-to-play scheme. Lavin gave Obama $500 on March 4, 2005.
On January 18, 2005 the Tribune reported, “City officials insist they are taking steps to eliminate wrongdoing in the set-aside program, including imposing a new requirement mandating that firms certified as female- or minority-owned before 2003 to undergo new scrutiny by applying for recertification in 2005.”
The Tribune quoted Senator Obama as stating: "In any program like this, there are going to be people with clout who seek to take advantage of it and, if we don't scrutinize it carefully and if there is not good, strong independent oversight, then potentially it is subject to abuse."
"The objective of affirmative action," he said, "is to open up doors to people who don't have opportunity."
Two months after Obama made these profound comments, on March 17, 2005, the Sun-Times reported that two restaurants at O'Hare “have been allowed to rake in millions of dollars, even though the Daley administration learned back in 2002 that the company running them was probably a phony minority "front" for Panda Express," and Tony Rezko.
A company called, Crucial Inc, won the 10-year O'Hare contract in 1997, while certified as a minority-owned, with its largest shareholder listed as Jabir Herbert Muhammad, son of the late Nation of Islam founder, Elijah Muhammad.
With the contract, Crucial’s revenues skyrocketed from under $200,000 each year before opening at O'Hare, to nearly $6 million in 2002, according to published reports. Crucial earned nearly $16 million in its first four years at the airport, the Sun-Times found.
According to the Sun-Times, a compliance officer had inspected Crucial in 2002 and was told by Muhammad that he was not running the operations of the restaurants as required.
"Everything is done by Panda Express," certification officer Robert Cunniff concluded in a July 31, 2002, report obtained by the Times. "Muhammad said that he was used to get Panda in the airport."
Crucial "seems to be a front for minority business enterprise status for Panda Express," Cunniff wrote, noting that Crucial appeared to be operating out of an office for "Rezko Panda Express."
When it came to managing Crucial's office, Muhammad said the work was done by Chaib, a Rezko associate who won a Subway franchise deal at Tollway oases, the Times noted.
Even though the compliance officer's report was submitted in 2002, the Daley’s administration took no action until March 2005, according to the Times.
Crucial got its start through a deal with the city of Chicago. "With the blessing of Chicago Mayor Daley, Rezko’s restaurant ventures included several exclusive franchises along the city’s beachfronts, on Chicago Park District property," according to a report by Chicago columnist Ray Hanania.
It was through Crucial that Rezko met his partner in the Rezmar development company, Daniel Mahru. Mahru was the CEO of Automatic Ice, which sold ice to Crucial. By 1998, Rezko had a net worth of $34 million and Mahru over $14 million, according to the Sun-Times. Mahru has been cooperating in the Board Games investigation since 2005.
Campaign funds pour in from Cook County racket
In addition to Crucial Inc, another company certified as a minority owned, Crucial Communications, was also found to be a Rezko front company. This firm was chosen as a subcontractor by SBC Communications, which won a no-bid $10 million contract in 2003, to handle the pay-phone system at the Cook County jail and other county facilities.
At the time this contract was awarded, SBC was led by “Combine” member, Bill Daley, Mayor Daley's brother, according to a report in the April 4, 2005 Daily Southtown. Bill is now an advisor to Obama and a member of his campaign finance committee.
The Times found that Crucial's lone customer was Cook County, and the six employees listed included Rezko’s brother, Aboud Rezko, Muhammad, Mrs Muhammad, and Bernice Hatchett-Polk, none with expertise in maintaining pay phones.
On December 31, 2002, Hatchette-Polk, contributed $1,000 to Obama. Aboud Rezko also donated $1,500 the same day. Tony Rezko made a donation of $1,500 the same day and Rita also contributed $1,000.
An African American women, Delores Wade, who was at the time listed as CEO on records certifying Crucial as a minority owned business, also gave Obama $1,500 on December 31.
Three months later, on March 31, 2003, Hatchette-Polk donated $500 to Obama, Aboud gave $500, and Tony and Rita each made a $500 contribution the same day.
On June 30, 2003, Crucial CEO, Wade, made another $1,000 contribution and on October 10, 2003, Tony Rezko made a $10,000 donation.
When Crucial got the $1.3 million contract as a subcontractor for SBC, it was supposed to be run by Wade. However, on March 26, 2005, the Tribune reported that Wade had died over a year ago on January 23, 2004, and Muhammad had been too ill to run the company for three years.
"In their recertification documents in September 2004, they did not indicate that there was any change in the ownership or management," a Cook County spokeswoman told the Daily Southtown.
But on May 5, 2005, the Times reported that the woman who notarized Crucial's latest recertification for minority-owned status, Gwendolyn Duncan, was John Stroger's secretary and was paid $72,000 to be his administrative assistant.
When county commissioners tried to find out exactly how this racket got set up, Stroger said SBC chose Crucial to be the subcontractor, and the SBC spokesman said SBC chose Crucial from a list of certified minority-owned companies provided by Cook County.
On March 15, 2005, the Times pointed out that in addition to being a major fund-raiser and adviser for Blagojevich, Rezko had been a big supporter of Mayor Daley, his brother, John Daley, John Stroger, and Senator Barack Obama.
According to the report, Rezko’s development company, Rezmar, had given $1,000 to Mayor Daley's campaign, and $5,000 to John Daley, a Cook County Commissioner who now serves as Finance Chairman of the Cook County Board.
At that time, there were also six Rezkos on Cook County payrolls, the Times noted. The Times also found that in the past, Crucial Communications, Crucial Inc, and the Crucial Group, a company owned by Orlando Jones, were all listed with addresses at the same building as Rezko‘s businesses.
However, not to be deterred by something as common as exposure of Combine corruption in the media, the next month, Stroger selected Rezko as one of the honorary chairs of his campaign fund, according to the April 8, 2005 Tribune. Stroger defended Rezko as a "hard-working, legitimate businessman" who had supported his political efforts for years.
"As far as I'm concerned,” Stroger told the Tribune, “he's been a super supporter and he's never done anything that I thought was improper, that seemed improper." All total, Rezko had given Stroger $148,300, according to the April 23, 2007 Sun-Times.
Stroger died in January 2008, and like his godson and former chief of staff, Orlando Jones, who committed suicide in September 2007, as news came of his pending indictment, escaped any direct scrutiny of his participation in the schemes uncovered by Board Games.
However, Jabir Muhammad is very ill but still alive, and he apparently regrets the day he got involved with the "legitimate businessman," and allowed Crucial companies to be used as fronts for the Combine’s fortune-making for more reasons then one.
Muhammad and his wife have filed a lawsuit against Rezko, and co-schemer in the GE-pizza case, Dr Paul Ray, who is also the chief urologist at Cook County's Stroger Hospital, alleging they bilked the couple out of their home through a land trust. According to a March 23, 2008, Sun-Times report:
"The Muhammads say Rezko persuaded them to put the home into a land trust when Jabir Muhammad was extremely ill in the 1990s. They say they had no idea Rezko intended to seize it from them."
"Ray now has clear title to Muhammad's house," the Times reports.
Ray is a co-schemer with Rezko and Abdelhamid Chaib in the GE and Papa John's case.
Minority owned business racket headed for Washington
The “Combine” already has a plan in place to set up the minority-owned business racket in cities all across the country to be run through a new "White House Office of Urban Policy," detailed in, "Barack Obama's Plan to Fight Poverty in America."
In a speech in April 2007, Obama said: "Less than one percent of the $250 billion in venture capital that’s invested each year goes to minority businesses that are trying to breathe life into our cities."
"This has to change," he stated.
"When I’m President," Obama said, "I’ll make sure that every community has the access to the capital and resources it needs to create a stronger business climate by providing more loans to small businesses and setting up the financial institutions that can help get them started."
Under a plan no doubt developed by the fine-tuners of the Chicago racket probably for Blagojevich: "Obama will provide additional resources to the federal Community Development Financial Institution Fund, the Small Business Administration and other federal agencies, especially to their local branch offices, to address the needs identified by the Director of Urban Policy."
With this plan in place, Rezko's appointment as Director was a given. If the Combine’s plot to get rid of Patrick Fitzgerald and shut down Board Games had worked, Rezko would have landed an office right smack in the middle of the White House.