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Stars That Died

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Who is Antoin Rezko?

Who is Antonio Tony Rezco, we know him s Tony Rezco. He was born into a prominent Catholic family.[1] After graduating from high school there, Rezko moved to Chicago and earned an undergraduate and a master's degree in civil engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in the late 1970s. He joined an engineering company, designing nuclear power plants, then left to design roads for the state Transportation Department, making $21,590 in his first year there. Soon after beginning his career as a civil engineer, Rezko started investing in real estate and fast-food restaurants—including the first Subway in Chicago.

Many of these properties were in lower-income African American neighborhoods.[1] Antoin "Tony" Rezko we know him as Tony Rezko. Rezko was born in 1955 in [4] Then, meeting Jabir Herbert Muhammad, former manager of heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and son of the late Nation of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad, he was asked in 1983 to support the successful mayoral candidacy of Harold Washington.

J. H. Muhammad's company, Crucial Concessions, which Rezko went to work for in 1984, won a food contract at the Lake Michigan beaches and in many South Side parks after Washington became the first black mayor of Chicago. Rezko put together endorsement deals for Ali, became the executive director of the Muhammad Ali Foundation, and traveled the world with Ali for five years.[1] In 1997, Crucial opened two Panda Express Restaurants at O'Hare, under the city's minority set-aside program. It lost those franchises in 2005, on the grounds that J. H. Muhammad was merely a front for Rezko, who had been appointed trustee of J.H. Muhammad's affairs in the early 1990s because of the latter's failing health. In March 2008 Muhammad sued Rezko, alleging that he had been swindled out of his home and business interests.[4][5][3] In January 1989, Rezko and Daniel Mahru, CEO of a firm which leased ice makers to bars, hotels and restaurants and a former attorney, founded a real-estate development and restaurant holding corporation called Rezmar Corporation. Between 1989 and 1998, Rezmar made deals to rehab 30 buildings, a total of 1,025 apartments, expending more than $100 million from the city, state and federal governments and in bank loans. Rezko and Mahru weren't responsible for any government or bank loans or the $50 million in federal tax credits they got to rehab the buildings. Rezmar put just $100 into each project and got a 1% stake as the general partner in charge of hiring the architect, contractor, and the company that would manage the buildings, screen tenants and make repairs, Chicago Property Management, also owned by Rezko and Mahru. It also got upfront development fees of at least $6.9 million in all. Under its deals with the Chicago Equity Fund, Rezmar promised to cover all operating losses in any building for seven years, but had no obligation after that, although the tax credits they sold could be recovered by the Federal government from the holders if the projects did not survive for fifteen years or more.[3] By 1998 the company had a net worth of US$34 million,[6][7] and it then turned to purchasing old factories and parcels of land in gentrifying areas of Chicago and turning them into upscale condominium complexes.[3][8] Rezko was named "Entrepreneur of the Decade" by the Arab-American Business and Professional Association.[9] Rezko's investment in restaurant food chains had started with a chain of Panda Express Chinese restaurants. In 1998, Rezko opened his first chain of Papa John's Pizza restaurants in Chicago and by 2002, he had twenty-six stores in Chicago, at least fifteen in Wisconsin, and seven in Detroit, part of the financing for these stores was through GE Capital.[2] By 2001, Rezko began to fall behind on his franchise payments and loans and he transferred the franchises to several business associates. In 2006, during a lawsuit with Papa John's over his franchise fees, Rezko renamed his Papa John's restaurants to Papa Tony's.[9] Rezko also had a lien filed against his home after losing a civil lawsuit to GE Capital.[2] As his business ventures began failing, Rezko entered into several partnership with Iraqi-born business executive Nadhmi Auchi, including a massive 2005 real estate development project on Chicago's South Loop whose value was pegged by an observer familiar with the deal at $130.5 million.[10] It was failure to disclose a $3.5m loan from Auchi that would lead to his imprisonment in 2008. He was (born 1955 in Aleppo, Syria) is an American political fundraiser, restaurateur, and real estate developer in Chicago, Illinois convicted on several counts of fraud and bribery in 2008. Rezko has been involved in fundraising for local Illinois Democratic and Republican politicians since the 1980s. After becoming a major contributor to Rod Blagojevich's successful gubernatorial election, Rezko assisted Blagojevich in setting up the state's first Democratic administration in 20 years. Rezko was able to have business associates appointed onto several state boards. Rezko and several others were indicted on federal charges in October 2006, for using their connections to the state boards to demand kickbacks from businesses that wanted to do business with the state. While the others pleaded guilty to the charges, Rezko pleaded not guilty and was found guilty of 16 of the 24 charges filed against him.

In October 2006, Rezko was indicted along with businessman Stuart Levine on charges of wire fraud, bribery, money laundering, and attempted extortion as a result of a federal investigation known as "Operation Board Games".[11][12] Levine was once a top Republican fundraiser who had switched loyalty in recent years. [13] Rezko and Levine were charged with attempting to extort millions of dollars from businesses seeking to do business with the Illinois Teachers Retirement System Board and the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board from 2002 to 2004. Levine pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Rezko and others. While the charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, Levine expects to receive about a 5-1/2 year sentence in return for his testimony.[14] The case was prosecuted by Patrick Fitzgerald.
Rezko pleaded not guilty, and the trial related to his charges from Operation Board Games began on March 6, 2008.[15] He was jailed shortly before the trial began when he received a $3.5 million wire transfer from Lebanon. Rezko had told the court that he had no access to money from overseas. Ten weeks into the trial, on April 18, Judge Amy St. Eve released Rezko, after friends and relatives put up 30 properties valued at about $8.5 million to secure his bond. Prosecutors opposed the motion for release, saying that Rezko was a flight risk.[16] On May 6, both the prosecution and the defense rested their cases. Government prosecutors spent 8 weeks presenting their case. Rezko’s lawyer, Joseph J. Duffy, chose not to present any witnesses, saying that he did not believe that the prosecution had proven the charges.[17] Prosecutors contended that they had shown Rezko's "corrupt use of his power and influence" to gain benefits for himself and his friends. Duffy argued that the prosecution had exaggerated Rezko's influence in state government, and attacked Levine's credibility as a witness.[18]
The case went to the jury on May 13 and after three weeks of deliberation, the jury found Rezko guilty of six counts of wire fraud, six counts of mail fraud, two counts of corrupt solicitation, and two counts of money laundering, but found him not guilty on three counts of wire and mail fraud, one count of attempted extortion, and four counts of corrupt solicitation.[19] According to CBS News the "high-profile federal trial provided an unusually detailed glimpse of the pay-to-play politics that has made Illinois infamous."[20]

While the jury was deliberating on the Board Games trial, an arrest warrant was issued in Las Vegas for passing bad checks in two casinos and failing to pay $450,000 in gambling debts that were accrued between March and July of 2006.[21] Another casino had also filed a civil complaint for a total of $331,000 in 2006 and was given a judgment of default in 2007.[21]
Rezko is also under indictment, along with a business associate, for wire fraud related to the alleged sale of his pizza business to a straw buyer at an inflated price in order to obtain millions of dollars in loans from GE Capital.[22] Rezko has plead not guilty to these charges and the trial is scheduled to begin in 2009.[23]

Rezko's relationship with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his family were at the root of the federal corruption case which led to Rezko's conviction.[2] Rezko donated $117,652 to Blagojevich's campaigns,[4] and is credited by the prosecutor in his trial with having delivered bundled contributions totalling almost $1.44 million.[24] Since 1997, Blagojevich's wife, Patricia, has made at least $38,000 acting as Rezko's real-estate agent on several of his company's property acquisitions. When Blagojevich won the Illinois gubernatorial election in 2002, Rezko assisted Blagojevich in setting up the state's first Democratic administration in twenty years.[2] Rezko recommended many of his business associates and their relatives for positions within state government, three of whom were appointed to the state board that oversees hospital projects. the state's development board was run by another former Rezko business associate. Rezko and Republican fundraiser Stuart Levine were charged in a 24-count federal indictment for allegedly using Rezko's influence with public officials to demand millions of dollars in kickbacks from companies that wanted to do business with the state.[2][4] Levine pled guilty and served as the chief witness against Rezko at trial. Levine and several other witnesses implicated Blagojevich in the schemes, although the governor has not been charged with any crimes.[25][26]

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