Obama – Turning Pages, Part I

After announcing he was running for president in February, Senator Barack Obama began to vigorously scrub his life story. He is still busy scrubbing. Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune reported that now, for the fourth time, Rezko related money donated to Obama’s campaign has been donated to charity. The story raises additional intriguing questions concerning Obama’s closes ties to unsavory characters which we will explain in Part II of this post. The calculation by Obama is that by returning the tens of thousands of dollars he can scrub away his decades long history with his now indicted slumlord friend Antoin “Tony” Rezko.

We have written several posts discussing Obama’s indicted slumlord friend and Obama’s questionable business deals with Rezko. Some of them are Will Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald Destroy the Obama Campaign?, and The Pit and The Pendulum, and Obama’s Log Cabin, and Obama’s $925,000 Question, and Barack O bomb a, and Obama Fights The Facts. Tomorrow we will explain how the new Chicago Tribune facts fill in parts of the Obama-Rezko $925,000 puzzle.

The Chicago Tribune reports yesterday that

“U.S. Sen. Barack Obama is giving charities some $16,500 in campaign donations from two Chicago businessmen who had financial ties to indicted dealmaker Antoin “Tony” Rezko.”

“A spokesman for Obama’s presidential campaign on Thursday offered no details about Obama’s relationship with the two contributors.”

“But the announcement puts an unwanted spotlight on the two local businessmen and underscores Obama’s efforts to distance himself from Rezko, a former friend and fundraiser who has become a public relations problem for Obama’s presidential campaign. Rezko has pleaded not guilty to federal influence peddling and bank fraud charges.”

“This marks the fourth time that Obama’s campaign has shed contributions made by Rezko and associates to Obama’s House and Senate campaigns. Those contributions totaled more than $33,000.”

The Chicago Tribune continues,

“Last week, the Obama campaign gave charities $5,000 in donations from another Rezko associate shortly after the man was indicted. Ali Ata, the former executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority, was indicted last week for allegedly using an agency letterhead to provide false information in an effort to secure more than $10 million in loans for Rezko-related business ventures. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday.”

The Chicago Tribune, like the Chicago Sun-Times earlier, states that the Obama campaign released the information about the returned contributions only after the Chicago Tribune asked about the contributions. David Axelrod, who runs the Obama campaign must know that even in the politics of Chicago getting ahead of the story is better than responding after the fact. Why is the Obama campaign incapable or unwilling to put the many questions about his indicted friend Rezko, to rest? Is it incompetence or is there something to fear and hide? Is it, as we have written, the $925,000 or is it the as yet unreleased law firm work Obama did for Rezko even as Rezko’s tenement renters froze due to lack of heat?

“Federal prosecutors describe both men — without identifying them by name — in court papers outlining charges against Rezko. The Tribune confirmed their identities through sources familiar with the ongoing federal corruption probe. Civil suits over the same transactions also identify them by name. Both are well-known business leaders.”

“One is Glenview entrepreneur Joseph Aramanda, who gave at least $10,000 to Obama’s 2004 campaign and has overseen Rezko pizza franchises.”

“The other is Dr. Paul Ray, chairman of the urology division of Cook County’s Stroger Hospital, who gave $6,500 to Obama. Ray has invested in a Rezko real estate development firm and also engaged in 2004 deals to purchase pizza parlors in Wisconsin that were formerly owned by a Rezko firm.”

Once again, the Obama campaign claims to be unable to explain this situation.

“Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the campaign was unclear on how the contributions from Aramanda and Ray came about. Rezko solicited donations for Obama and was one of 85 members of Obama’s 2004 campaign finance committee.

Obama last year gave charities $11,500 to clear his campaign fund of donations that had come directly from Rezko. Obama has denied ever using his government clout to do any favors for Rezko.

Aramanda and Ray were among numerous investors in Rezko land and fast-food ventures — and guests at the political fundraisers Rezko hosted.”

The cast of characters has now expanded in the Obama-Rezko connection.

“In December, the Tribune reported that Obama hired Aramanda’s son as a 2005 summer intern in Obama’s Capitol Hill office after Rezko recommended the intern. But it wasn’t until this week that the campaign decided to give that money to charity.”

“Aramanda has been publicly identified as “Individual D” in the pension fraud case against Rezko. He allegedly worked with Rezko to fraudulently obtain $250,000 in consulting fees on a state pension deal, but has not been charged with any crime.”

“Ray, who earns nearly $347,000 as chairman of Stroger Hospital’s urology division, also has partnered with Rezko in several ventures.”

“One civil lawsuit over Rezko’s companies contains corporate documents that say Ray personally invested about $1 million in Rezko Enterprises LLC, giving Ray a 2.6 percent stake in that property development firm.”

“And Ray heads a tax-exempt nonprofit called Urology Education and Research Foundation Inc. that has invested $600,000 in Rezko real estate and business enterprises, according to the charity’s 2004 public tax filings. The foundation took donations from pharmaceutical companies to study the efficacy and safety of drugs. Thomas Anthony Durkin, a criminal defense attorney who represents Ray, declined to comment on any pending court cases but said. “I am quite confident that Paul Ray has done nothing wrong whatsoever.”

“Records and interviews show that Ray is the unidentified “Investor 1″ in court filings last week that allege Rezko engaged in a scheme to defraud a lending company of more than $10 million. Prosecutors allege that Investor 1 entered into a 2004 purchase of 15 Wisconsin pizza parlors that were formerly owned by a Rezko firm. In an effort to obtain financing for that purchase, Ata wrote a letter to a lending company saying the state would guarantee a portion of a loan, according to the indictment.”

We will continue with this story tomorrow in Obama – Turning Pages, Part II.