RezkoTrialWatch: FBI mole "logged frequent visits to Rezko" by Obama (renamed)
February 10, 2008
In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, FBI “mole” John Thomas, “who’s expected to be a key prosecution witness against indicted developer and political fund-raiser” Antoin “Tony” Rezko, is talking. Thomas told the Sun-Times that “his life became frantic as he amassed hundreds of hours of recorded conversations for federal investigators while trying to maintain the real estate business he built on pluck and hustle.” [snip]
“[In 2004 and 2005,] Sources said Thomas also logged frequent visits to Rezko from Gov. Blagojevich and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Blagojevich and Obama were among the many politicians for whom Rezko raised campaign cash…. Sources said the government had him wear a hidden wire to record conversations with a Chicago alderman–but that he did not record Blagojevich or Obama.”
Read the rest of the article here.
My life as an FBI mole
Chicago Sun Times | 2/10/08 | DAVID ROEDER
FBI PROBE | Real estate broker convicted of fraud becomes a mole for feds to nail Rezko
February 10, 2008
BY DAVID ROEDER Staff Reporteremail@example.com
For the first time, the FBI "mole" who's expected to be a key prosecution witness against indicted developer and political fund-raiser Tony Rezko is talking.
In an exclusive interview with the Sun-Times, John Thomas said his life became frantic as he amassed hundreds of hours of recorded conversations for federal investigators while trying to maintain the real estate business he built on pluck and hustle.
A fly on the wall
"Now," Thomas said, "all I want is a little bit of peace."
Thomas wouldn't discuss details of his work for the FBI.
But sources said that, for more than two years when he was giving information to agents, Thomas provided a fly-on-the-wall look inside Rezko's real estate operations and his desperate attempts to keep his projects afloat.
Sources said Thomas also logged frequent visits to Rezko from Gov. Blagojevich and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Blagojevich and Obama were among the many politicians for whom Rezko raised campaign cash. Neither has been charged with any wrongdoing.
Thomas had good reason to help. He hopes to get probation for his own felony fraud conviction in a New York case. And he said he wants to redeem himself in the eyes of business associates and his family.
Sources said Thomas helped investigators build a record of repeat visits to the old offices of Rezko and former business partner Daniel Mahru's Rezmar Corp., at 853 N. Elston, by Blagojevich and Obama during 2004 and 2005.
In one case, sources said, Thomas told authorities he saw a Rezmar employee pass an envelope with a visible wad of bills to an unidentified Blagojevich aide.
Both politicians relied on Rezko for fund-raising connections. Obama was in the thick of his successful run for the U.S. Senate in 2004. Now in the glare of a presidential campaign, Obama has donated to charity $157,835 from contributions to his Senate campaign that he has linked to Rezko.
In a corruption case set for trial next month, Rezko is accused of seeking campaign contributions for Blagojevich and kickbacks from companies seeking state pension business.
At 45, Thomas is a curious figure at the heart of a scandal that has reached into presidential politics.
He is prominent in commercial real estate circles in Chicago, even after pleading guilty in 2004 to felony fraud in New York.
Sources said the government had him wear a hidden wire to record conversations with a Chicago alderman -- but that he did not record Blagojevich or Obama.
Thomas said his work on the Rezko case is "essentially done."
He spoke of having turned government informer to reduce the penalties for his crimes and help rebuild his life and career.
"I was always a very talented real estate person," Thomas said. "But, when I became part of a difficult situation, I made the wrong decisions."
According to an FBI affidavit, those "wrong decisions" included Thomas' drawing more than $350,000 from his customers' credit cards while he was running a billboard leasing business in Manhattan in the late 1990s. He also charged more than $140,000 to an American Express business account he obtained using his father's Social Security number.
Afterward, Thomas, born Bernard Barton Jr., legally changed his name.
Goal was to cut prison term
Discussing what happened in New York, Thomas said he was trying to meet his payroll at a time the company had grown too fast.
According to sources, that was where Thomas first made contact with the FBI and the Justice Department in a move to reduce the likely 15- to 21-month prison term he'd get for fraud.
At the time, in the late 1990s, organized-crime families in New York were trying to muscle into the billboard business. Sources said Thomas helped federal prosecutors.
Relocating to Chicago in 2000, he built a real estate brokerage business. He did it with aggressive cold-calling, managing to connect sellers with buyers and positioning himself as an investor in several downtown deals. Also as part of his business, he secured financing for a commission.
Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 19 on the New York charges. But his sentencing is likely to be delayed, perhaps for a year, while the Justice Department has him testify in the second of two trials Rezko faces -- that one involving allegations of business fraud. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn McNiven, a prosecutor on both the Thomas and Rezko cases, declined to comment.
Thomas' real estate activities have given him many contacts in a business that runs on them. But some of his more ambitious development deals have failed amid a flurry of lawsuits. In one case, Thomas is suing a former partner, accusing him of stealing money from renovations for an office building they owned at 318 W. Adams, in the shadow of Sears Tower. A planned conversion to office condominiums at his building has been scrapped.
And Thomas is trading lawsuits with partners in a failed purchase of the 105 W. Adams building. A venture he formed with Mahru to buy a Miami building ended in bankruptcy.
'I'm always working'
Still, Thomas said his business prospects are strong now that he has a startup company -- Red Rock Capital Realty -- that specializes in real estate consulting.
People he has done business with said he doesn't hide his background. Some joke that Thomas even introduces himself as a convicted felon.
"All these brokers, they come in at 10 and leave at 5," Thomas said. "I come in at 7 and leave at 7 at night. I'm always working."
Chicago, he said, "is a wonderful place to do this kind of business. It is the most forgiving."
Thomas said he has repaid his father and hopes to make amends for the sake of his wife and their young child.
He wants, he said, to change. That includes gastric-bypass surgery he had 1½ years ago. Since then, he has lost more than 130 pounds from a frame that once tipped the scales at 365.
On the back of his business card, Thomas expresses his thoughts on his situation.
In eight languages, the card reads: "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."
Some key dates and events in the life of FBI mole John Thomas:
Late 1990s — Ran a Manhattan company that leased billboard space. Stole several hundred thousand dollars from clients’ credit cards. Helps federal authorities in probe of mob influence in billboards.
2000 — Changes name from Bernard Barton Jr. and relocates to Chicago, where he starts a brokerage, Carnegie Realty Partners LLC, and a billboard company.
2003 — Signs on to represent developer Jeffrey Grossman in a condominium deal at 60 W. Erie. Within days, Grossman is arrested for bank fraud, and Thomas agrees to help the feds. Grossman and Donald Grauer later plead guilty.
2004 — Thomas pleads guilty in New York fraud, gets the case transferred to Chicago. Yet to be sentenced, Thomas begins cooperating with feds’ probe of developer and political fund-raiser Tony Rezko, with a focus on Rezko’s financing deals on 62 acres at Roosevelt and Clark and vacant land at the southwest corner of Chicago and Hudson.
2005 — Still cooperating with prosecutors, Thomas builds business portfolio and attempts several downtown development deals.
2007 — He’s publicly identified as a government mole in the Rezko case
Sweet blog special: Clinton, Obama and controversial fund-raiser with ties to Rezko. Giving back controversial money. Clinton, Obama, fund-raisers in Chicago Monday. June 25, 2007 (Excerpted)
CHICAGO-- Here are three stories about a Chicago Democratic fund-raiser, Myron Cherry, his ties to the controversial Tony Rezko, under indictment for public corruption and his connections to White House hopefuls Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)
June 25, 2007
BY CHRIS FUSCO, DAVE MCKINNEY AND LYNN SWEET Staff Reporters
A lawyer referenced in a public-corruption indictment of Wilmette businessman Tony Rezko is among the hosts of a Chicago fund-raising dinner tonight for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign.
Clinton (D-N.Y.) has no direct connection to Rezko. But one of 20 "chairs" for her Palmer House Hilton event is Myron Cherry, who is among a large circle of people to be enmeshed in two federal indictments Rezko is fighting. Most of those people, including Cherry, have not been charged with any crimes.
Rezko figures more centrally to Clinton's chief rival, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Rezko has donated money directly to Obama's state and U.S. Senate campaigns, hosted fund-raisers for Obama and once owned a parcel of land next to Obama's house.
In a rare confluence, the Obama campaign tonight will be raising money just blocks away from Clinton's during an event at Fulton's on the River restaurant.
Philip Singer, a Clinton spokesman, declined to comment about the ethics of Cherry helping host an event for the New York senator. Cherry himself said he has done nothing wrong and that his role "if any" in Rezko's prosecution "might be as a potential witness."
Cherry is a longtime Democratic contributor and "bundler" who has been valuable to campaigns because he can land donations from a large network of acquaintances. In March 2000, Cherry hosted President Bill Clinton at his Lincolnwood home for a fund-raiser that raised more than $700,000 for the Democratic National Committee.
In October, Cherry surfaced as "Individual H" in a Rezko fraud indictment that involves pension investments made by the Teachers' Retirement System of Illinois. He allegedly was slated to be the recipient of a fee on one proposed investment deal even though he did no work.
Unlike other people identified as "individuals" in the Rezko cases, Cherry has spoken publicly about the matter. He has said his name was inserted in the deal without his knowledge, and that he is cooperating with authorities.
"My efforts in support of numerous Democratic candidates are quite more than a few over the years," Cherry wrote in response to a Chicago Sun-Times inquiry. "I support Senator Clinton and will support her if she is the nominee for the Democratic Party, and if the nominee is a Democratic candidate other than Senator Clinton, I will support that candidate as well."
Cherry's emergence as a host of the Clinton event comes as Obama has given to charity more than $37,000 from Rezko and five people referenced in Rezko's indictments. Obama, however, has kept $2,850 from two other donors involved in the Rezko cases, though those donations are under review, Obama press secretary Bill Burton saidObama, however, has kept $2,850 from two other donors involved in the Rezko cases, though those donations are under review, Obama press secretary Bill Burton said... (more) Excerpted from: Lynn Sweets Columns at: http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2007/06/sweet_blog_special_clinton_oba.html
Another Article Of Interest
Writing in Human Events, March 3, 2008, John Batchelor reports on an Alsammarae-Obama-Rezko connection:
"...in April 2005, one month before Mr. Alsammarae left his post, his Ministry of Electricity signed a contract for $50 million with Companion Security to provide training to Iraqis to guard electrical plants by flying them to Illinois for classes.
"Companion Security was headed by a former Chicago policeman with a troubled history, Daniel T. Frawley, in partnership with Mr. Rezko and in association with Daniel Mahru, the lawyer for the original contract and Mr. Rezko's former business partner. In April 2006, Mr. Frawley entered negotiations with Governor Rod Blagojevich's staff to lease a military facility in Illinois to be a training camp. In August 2006, Mr. Frawley started negotiations with Mr. Obama's U.S. Senate staff to complete the contract....
"The timeline of Companion discussions in 2006 is important to note: April 2006 Frawley speaks to governor's office; August 2006 Frawley speaks to senator's office; October 2006 indictment of Rezko revealed; October 2006 Rezko arrested upon return from Syria; October 2006 Alsammarae convicted in Baghdad and makes his first escape attempt; December 2006 Alsammarae escapes from Baghdad. ...
"(In 2004) Mr. Auchi traveled by private aircraft to Midway Airport in Chicago and then to a fete at the Four Season Hotel, where he met with his business partner in Chicago real estate, Mr. Rezko, as well as with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Also present that night, according to a fresh report by James Bone and Dominic Kennedy of the London Times, was State Senator Barack Obama, who had recently won the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat...."
Most politicians try to keep their financial backers out of trouble until after the election. But Rezko, is already indicted by a federal grand jury. And now his trial has begun in a Chicago federal court.
Rezko, along with Ali Ata and Abdelhamid Chaib, face federal grand jury charges presented in October 2006 by U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald. The case revolves around allegations of fraud between 2000 and 2004 in the sale of 17 Papa Johns' Pizza parlors in Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee. The case may begin with pizza but it could easily lead back to Europe, Syria, Iraq, and the UN Oil for Food program.
Fitzgerald is the prosecutor who won perjury convictions against Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, in March, 2007. Chaib is an officer of several of Rezko's restaurant chains including Chicagoland Panda Express franchises. Ata was appointed Executive Director of the Illinois Finance Authority by Governor Blagojevich. Ata was also a former president of the Chicago Chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and had a financial interest in Rezko's restaurants. Ata reportedly donated as much as $60,000 to Blagojevich and $5,000 to Obama. Rezko reportedly raised as much as $500,000 for Blagojevich and at least $70,000 for Obama's various campaigns. Obama has redirected as much as $150,000 in donations "bundled" by Rezko.
Rezko has other unsavory financial ties. Arab American Media Services reports:
"In 1997, Panda Express won the right to open a lucrative concession at O'Hare International Airport under the city's Minority Set-Aside program which directs large contracts to companies owned by Women, African Americans or Hispanics. The city awarded a 10-year contract for O'Hare Airport to Crucial Inc. in 1999, which the city believed was owned by an African American, Jabir Herbert Muhammad, the son of the late Elijah Mohammad."
Elijah Mohammad led the Nation of Islam until his death in 1975. Jabir Herbert Muhammad was sued in 1999 by boxer Muhammad Ali for unauthorized use of his name in connection with the so-called Muhammad Ali Foundation. Rezko served as Executive Director of the Foundation.