CHICAGO – Antoin Rezko, a Chicago businessman and longtime fundraiser for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was convicted of 16 felony corruption charges Wednesday in a case that alleged influence peddling in the upper reaches of the administration of Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
After two months of vivid testimony about political profiteering in Illinois state government, the 12-member jury found Rezko guilty of using his clout as a Blagojevich insider to shake down companies hoping to do business with the state. The 16 counts included fraud, money laundering and abetting bribery. Rezko was acquitted of eight counts, including extortion.
Rezko voluntarily surrendered to federal authorities as soon as the verdicts were read.
The successful prosecution adds to the pressure on Blagojevich, who rode into office in 2002 with a promise to end corruption in Springfield, the state capital. His Republican predecessor, George Ryan, was convicted of corruption in the same Chicago courthouse in 2006.
“It’s another chapter in the sad history of Illinois government,” Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association, told reporters. “I don’t think this is the ‘No more business as usual’ we were promised when Rod Blagojevich became governor back in 2002.”
Blagojevich, now in his second term, has steadfastly denied wrongdoing. For Obama, who was unconnected to the criminal case but once counted Rezko as a friend and loyal contributor, the verdict makes it certain that critics will continue to question their relationship.
Obama has said whenever asked – and he has been asked repeatedly – that his relationship to Rezko, who had a history of befriending up-and-coming Illinois politicians, never strayed into official business. Obama said Rezko asked no favors and that he did him none.
Rezko has not raised money for Obama since 2004, and the Obama campaign gave to charity the donations linked to Rezko.
“I’m saddened by today’s verdict,” Obama said in a statement Wednesday. “This isn’t the Tony Rezko I knew, but now he has been convicted by a jury on multiple charges that once again shine a spotlight on the need for reform.”