Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Obama's name likely to come up in Rezko trial

From Chicago Tribune on February 16, 2008: "The name of Democratic presidential front-runner Barack Obama is likely to brush up against the impending federal corruption trial of Antoin "Tony" Rezko as the result of a judge's ruling Monday.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve, who is presiding over Rezko's trial, told prosecutors they could introduce evidence to support allegations that Rezko used straw men to make political contributions on his behalf.

Prosecutors have alleged that the money came from fees Rezko illegally siphoned from a state pension board.
In her ruling, St. Eve said the government contends that Rezko directed business associates Joseph Aramanda and Elie Maloof to make contributions to an unnamed political candidate in late 2003 and 2004 because Rezko had already contributed the maximum legal amount.

The only candidate Maloof and Aramanda contributed to during that time frame was Obama, then running for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. Maloof and Aramanda each gave $10,000 to Obama's campaign.

Maloof of Vernon Hills had supported Obama in an earlier political campaign, and disclosure reports from that effort listed her as a vice president of operations for a Rezko pizzeria management firm. Aramanda is a Glenview businessman whose son received a coveted summer internship in Obama's Capitol Hill office in 2005.

Until his recent legal troubles, Rezko had been a longtime friend and financial supporter of Obama's political career. Prosecutors have not alleged any wrongdoing on Obama's part, but the developments come at an awkward time as Obama faces crucial March 4 primary contests, one day after the scheduled start of the trial.

Obama's campaign says it has given more than $150,000 in Rezko-linked contributions to charity, including the money from Aramanda and Maloof.

"We had no knowledge of any straw donations and have returned any of the donations about which we have any reasonable question," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement late Monday."