Thursday, September 20, 2012

Obama in Chicago Land

Read First:
Curtain Time For Barack Obama - Part I

By Evelyn Pringle

15 May, 2008

Republicans have enough damaging information against Barack Obama to knock him off the ballot before the November election. Those at the top of the Democratic Party know this by now and voters need to recognize that if they nominate him they are throwing the election. Nothing else can explain why they would allow this disaster to happen.

The investigation called "Operation Board Games" will lead to Obama's downfall and it will begin with what he claims was a "boneheaded" mistake in entering into real estate deal with the Syrian-born immigrant, Antoin 'Tony' Rezko, less than a month after Rezko received a $3.5 million loan from the Iraqi-born billionaire, Nadhmi Auchi, who ended up with Riverside Park, a $2.5 billion 62-acre development project in the Chicago Loop.

Obama set his sights on a $2 million mansion the month after he was elected to the US Senate. It's now known that Rezko got involved in the house-buying endeavor early on, although his involvement would not known until November 2006, the month after Rezko’s indictment was unsealed in the Operation Board Games case.

Nadhmi Auchi owns General Mediterranean Holdings, a Luxemburg-based conglomerate with investments all over the world in everything from Iraq reconstruction contracts to pharmaceuticals to pizza parlors.

More than two solid months of investigation leads to the conclusion that following the names linked to Riverside Park is the key to understanding Operation Board Games.

Auchi ended up with the grand prize but the new owner can not set foot on the development site in downtown Chicago because he is not allowed in this country. In a January 26, 2008 Affidavit, filed by an FBI Agent, the following description of Auchi and his company was given:

“General Mediterranean is owned by Nadhmi Auchi, who public source documents describe as a British-based Iraqi billionaire who was convicted several years ago in France on fraud charges. Auchi was sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined $2 million euros, but the sentence was suspended as long as Auchi committed no new crimes.

“Thereafter, in November 2005, after Auchi was unable to enter the United States, Rezko directly appealed to the State Department to permit Auchi to enter the United States and, it appears, asked certain Illinois government officials to do the same.”

Auchi's conviction was a part of the gigantic investigation into the corruption of the Elf oil company, “the biggest fraud inquiry in Europe since the Second World War. Elf became a private bank for its executives who spent £200 million on political favours, mistresses, jewellery, fine art, villas and apartments," according to the November 16, 2003 Guardian.

At the time, Elf was a public company owned by the citizens of France making them the victims of the fraud. Auchi, with all his billions of dollars, claims he is appealing the conviction but obviously with little success being it occurred five years ago.

However, more recent revelations about his funding the defense of Rezko and others in the Board Game cases, as well allegations of bid rigging in Iraq, have no doubt to the dilemma of his not being welcome here.

Most important for connecting the dots in the Board Games investigation, is the clarification that it is not the Rezko case. The only reason it's always referred to as the “Rezko” case is because he happens to be the first defendant to be brought to trial.

Also, the first trial is focused on the corruption of two Illinois boards, the panel that approves investments from the $40 billion pension fund of the Teachers Retirement System, and the Health Facilities Planning Board, which approves all medical facility construction projects in Illinois.

But the Operation Board Games cases involve corruption with officials and employees in many other state agencies and real estate deals are at the heart of most with Riverside Park front and center.

Confidential informant, John Thomas, began working undercover for the Feds in 2003, when he pleaded guilty in federal court in New York, to fraud charges involving a client of his former billboard leasing company, according to an October 3, 2007 report by Thomas Corfman in Crain's Chicago Business News.

Thomas began cooperating in the probe “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,” according to the February 10, 2008 Chicago Sun-Times.

In other words, “financing deals” with a “focus” on Riverside Park.
Corfman found that Thomas’ cooperation was revealed in court on October 2003, when he entered a guilty plea in New York. He published a portion of a transcript from an October 27, 2003 hearing in Crain's on May 4, 2007, in which prosecutors state:

“We just want to put on the record that the defendant has approached the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago to cooperate with the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago.”

“Should he provide substantial cooperation to another U.S. attorney’s office, we will consider that at the time of sentencing . . . or if the Chicago U.S. attorney’s office wants the case transferred there, we’d be happy to transfer the case there,” prosecutors said in the hearing.

At the request of prosecutors, as a part of a plea agreement Thomas was given permission by a federal judge to “engage in authorized criminal activity at the direction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Corfman reports.

The former New Yorker, he wrote, "has been conducting an undercover sting investigation for federal prosecutors while working in the Chicago commercial real estate industry."

On May 4, 2007, the Chicago Sun-Times said Thomas was an informant in the federal investigation into Rezko, his partner in the Rezmar development company, Daniel Mahru and "other political corruption cases."

The Chicago Tribune said it was aware of Thomas' role in May 2006, but did not publish the story after US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald asked editors to withhold the information because it would derail the investigation and put people in danger.

This reporter is confident about the identities of all confidential informants referred to in the documents filed thus far in the Board Games cases but will not reveal the names in this report due to an inability to determine whether the names are in fact known to the many persons still under investigation.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to be president in 2008
Operation Board Games must be viewed with a full understanding that Governor Rod Blagojevich was supposed to be the candidate running for president during this election cycle in order for the subplots involving Obama to become clear.

The Illinois political mob already had a major fundraising operation in place for Blagojevich by 2004, and its safe to assume that when Obama and Rezko first started setting up the real estate deal for the mansion and lot in December 2004, Obama never thought about any repercussions on his run for president.

This report will show that the same political mob raising money to make Blagojevich president in 2008, also funded Obama’s election to the US senate in 2004, which is also discussed further in the earlier articles in this series including:

Barack Obama - The Wizard of Oz
Barack Obama - Operation Board Games for Slumlords, and
Barack Obama - Subplots of Operation Board Games Part I

When announcing Rezko's indictment, the government made clear that Rezko "was added as a new defendant in a pending federal corruption case" that was brought against other co-schemers in 2005. The government’s star witness in the trial, Chicago businessman, Stuart Levine, pleaded guilty and testified to avoid a life sentence.

After jury selection began, the questionnaire for screening potential jurors included a list of more than 230 "possible witnesses or persons whose names might be mentioned," and included Barack Obama.

Reporters, Bob Sector and Jeff Coen, provided outstanding coverage of the trial on a bog called, “Gavel-to-Gavel,” on the Tribune website. After nearly two months, on April 24, 2008, they wrote: “Maybe it would be simpler to ask for a show of hands from political heavyweights who haven't been mentioned in the Antoin "Tony" Rezko corruption trial.”

Understanding what Tribune columnist, John Kass, has been referring to for years as the “Illinois Combine,” are also crucial to understanding the Board Game cases. In his March 28, 2008, column, Kass invited basically anyone to start using the term Combine, particularly “if they're having difficulty explaining how two parties can be as one when there's money on the table,” he said.

In gathering comments for his column, Kass called former US Senator, Peter Fitzgerald, who Kass describes as “the Republican maverick from Illinois who tried to fight political corruption and paid for it. For this sin, he was driven out of Illinois politics by political bosses, by their spinners and media mouthpieces, who ridiculed him mercilessly.”

He asked the Senator, “what do you call that connection that Stuart Levine describes from the witness stand, you know that arrangement across party lines, with politically powerful men leveraging government to make money—what do you call it?”

"The Illinois Combine," he said. "The bipartisan Illinois political combine.”“And all these guys being mentioned, they're part of it," he told Kass.

"In the final analysis,” the Senator said, “The Combine's allegiance is not to a party, but to their pocketbooks.”  “They're about making money off the taxpayers," he added.

According to Kass, “the Rezko trial is part of the U.S. Justice Department's attack on The Combine.”

“The "Operation Board Games" investigation is about how appointments to state boards and commissions overseeing state pension fund investments and hospital construction were leveraged into paydays for the insiders,” he explains.

“And what is playing out in the federal building is The Combine on trial,” he says.

Levine served as finance chairman for Republican Jim Ryan in the campaign for governor against Blagojevich. But an April 18, 2004, phone conversation caught on tape by the FBI between Levine and Republican insider and co-schemer, Robert Kjellander, shows the Republicans were very satisfied with new leaders of the “Combine.”

"I am telling you that I have never been in a better position than I am right now," Levine said. "Part of the reason is there's never been such a tight control of the central apparatus.”

"This guy is making decisions and can get anything done that he wants done . . . and I have a superb relationship" with him.

During the trial, Assistant US Attorney, Chris Niewoehner, asked Levine what he meant by that. The "central apparatus," Levine said, was Blagojevich's office and the guy "making decisions" was Rezko. He told the jury he'd never seen anything like this.

One co-schemer testified that Rezko told him Republican insider and co-schemer, William Cellini, had committed to raising $1 million for Blagojevich's campaign.

Levine even footed the bill for a private jet to fly Blagojevich and several other co-schemers to New York in October 2003 and December 2003, where Blagojevich met lawyers, investment bankers and media executives, “many of whom wrote checks to his campaign fund,” according to the September 22, 2006 Chicago Sun-Times.

For instance, HealthPoint Partners, a New York investment firm, held a fund-raiser and 2 days later, the Teacher’s pension board voted to invest $15 million with HealthPoint, “following up on a $20 million investment it made with the firm in April 2003,” the Times noted....

On March 31, 2008, Niewoehner asked Levine, “What is your understanding of why Mr. Rezko and Mr. Kelly would recommend investment firms?”

“In order to reward campaign contributors” to Blagojevich, Levine answered.
He also told the jury that he used to funnel campaign money to other Democratic candidates through straw donors at the request of Chicago Alderman Edward Vrdolyak.

Levine testified that from 2000 to 2004, he made a combined $9 to $10 million.
When the indictment against the Syrian-born immigrant, Rezko, was unsealed in October 2006, Fitzgerald said, "The amounts of money that were being shaken down in one . . . eight-week span was in the millions."

“But Rezko and Levine collected only about $250,000 because federal investigators tripped up their plans,” according to the October 12, 2006 Sun-Times.

In the article, Chicago FBI chief Robert Grant called those named in the indictment "parasites that have plagued our public institutions."
Rezko was not available for arrest when the indictment was announced because he was off on a trip to the Middle East.

Illinois Combine corruption leads to Iraq
The “Illinois Combine,” now includes many members living in the Chicago area of Middle Eastern descent and the trail of corruption leads straight to the killing fields in Iraq. The front-page of the April 26, 2008, Sun-Times provided the lead-in to the final subplot found at the end of the Board Games investigation when it reports:

"An ex-international fugitive helped spring Tony Rezko from jail earlier this month, putting up homes that comprise nearly one-third of the $8.5 million in property and cash securing Rezko's bail."

"The three homes belonging to former Iraqi Electricity Minister Aiham Alsammarae -- a dual U.S.-Iraqi citizen who broke out of a Baghdad jail in 2006 -- are part of a long list made public ... following a Sun-Times request."

Shortly after he escaped from a jail inside the Green Zone in December 2006, Alsammarae called New York Times reporter James Glatz, and said he did it the "Chicago way."

Alsammarae is now living about a half-hour west of Chicago in a subdivision, “where homes range in price from $1.5 million to $4 million,” according to the December 21, 2006 New York Times.

The indictment against Rezko was unsealed in October 2006 in Chicago, the same month that Alsammarae was found guilty in Bagdad of the first charge in what would become a dozen convictions for corruption related to deals he made as electricity minister between August 2003 and May 2005.

In his call right after he broke out of jail, Glatz says, Alsammarea ridiculed American and Iraqi officials and claimed he fled because he did not trust the police and received a tip that he would be assassinated within days.

Alsammarae told Glatz that he was already outside Iraq after finagling his way aboard a flight at the Baghdad Airport. However, Iraqi security and justice officials disputed parts of his account, telling Glatz that a figure as recognizable as Alsammarae could not possibly have slipped onto a flight when he was the subject of a manhunt.

Alsammarae told Glatz those assertions were made by officials who spent too much time inside the protected Green Zone and did not understand how the country worked.

“Those suckers who are sitting in the Green Zone, they cannot go out and see the people they are governing?” Alsammarae said. “This is a joke." According to Glatz, Alsammarae stated:  “So why I cannot take the airport? It’s not because I am a smart cookie. Any Iraqi can do it, even if they have 10,000 court orders against him. This is Iraq.”

His escape was an embarrassment for the Interior Ministry and the American-led forces that are guarding the Green Zone, Glatz said, “Iraqi officials expressed consternation when informed that Mr. Alsammarae had telephoned a reporter while on the lam.”

Despite the charges against him, Alsammarae told Glatz he did not believe American authorities would arrest him when he arrived in Chicago. “I hope they are smarter than that,” he said.

Apparently he was right because he flew right back into Chicago without a hitch. In fact, a month later he gave an interview on PBS on January 17, 2007, and explained how easy it was to escape, stating:

"I called my friends, and the friends, they come. They brought the car close to the police station, and I walk out to the car, and I move out from the Green Zone. From the Green Zone, we change cars many times.

"And after that, we reached the airport, Iraqi international airport, and I just flew over the private jet to Amman. Simple. Two-hours-and-a-half, I'd be in Amman."

Although his Iraqi passport was confiscated in jail, Alsammarae says he hid a second one and renewed his American passport in Jordan. Those who helped him, he claimed, were mostly Iraqi friends and supporters, including the owner of the private jet.

According John Batchelor, in a March 3, 2008 Human Events report, an Iraqi official in Baghdad says they want Alsammarae back and the case against him is rock solid. "We have a four-inch-thick file of his crimes," the official said.

He also said it has "Dates, bank accounts, dummy companies, a lot of them in the States."
"We want him," he told Batchelor, "and we want the money back."

An Iraqi politician, who Batchelor says has "extensive knowledge of the Iraqi diaspora before and after the fall of Baghdad," told him:

"Alsammarae is the weakest link in the chain of people who stole money from the CPA and the Iraqi people since 2003. The evidence against him is strong and convincing. His conviction is a problem for the people in his gang. The Baathists."

Auchi was reportedly involved in the power plant contract. Batchelor says Iraqi officials in Baghdad speak bluntly of Auchi as a "Saddam guy," and a member of the Baathist gang who has "beggared Iraq for 50 years."

The first allegations of Auchi’s bid rigging date back to the first telecommunications contracts awarded in 2003. On November 9, 2003, Time Magazine reported that the US was reviewing a decision to grant the mobile license for Baghdad and central Iraq to a consortium led by Egyptian telecom giant Orascom because of its ties to Auchi, described as "an Iraqi-born billionaire who built his fortune partly through arms deals with the Iraqi regime in the 1980s."

"Industry sources say Auchi provided Orascom with a $20 million loan to help pay down its $500 million debt," Time wrote. "The sources say the loan gave Auchi, who faced French prosecutors earlier this year for his role in a corruption and embezzlement scandal, a controlling stake in Orascom."

On February 25, 2005, a report by Charles Smith for NewsMax said, "Newly released documents from the Bush administration show that a former member of Saddam Hussein's inner circle has resurfaced inside the new Iraqi government, bringing charges of corruption, bribery and bid-rigging."

"As a result," he wrote, "millions of U.S. aid dollars and billions in Iraqi government funds have disappeared in an ongoing scandal that is poised to engulf Baghdad and Washington."
Citing a May 2004 Department of Defense report, Smith said, Auchi has organized "an elaborate scheme to take over and control the post-war cellular phone system in Iraq."

"Auchi," the report stated, "is widely regarded as a corrupt supporter of Saddam Hussein's regime who got his money from doing deals, especially illegal arms transfers for Saddam."

Bribes of between $18 and $21 million were allocated among six people including the Minister of Communications, an Iraqi Governing Council member, two American advisers from the Coalition Provisional Authority, and two British officials, according to the report.

Alsammarae moved to Chicago in the 1970s and met Rezko while attending engineering school. Reports indicating the Combine's corruption extended to the electricity minister in Iraq began in mid-summer 2005. On July 29, 2005, Sandra Jones reported in Crain's:

“Rezmar ... controlled by Tony Rezko, a controversial confidant of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, entered into a joint venture with a British firm in a $150-million deal to build a power plant in Iraq.”

She noted that the project would be managed by one of Blagojevich's previous top administration officials, Michael Rumman, "former director of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, the state's internal operations real estate agency.”

“The contract signed with Iraq’s ministry of electricity, calls for the soon-to-be named joint venture to supply power to Iraq for 10 years,” Jones reported.

“Rumman, who speaks Arabic, says the project is slated to be built in northern Iraq,” she wrote. During a Sun-Times interview in the summer of 2005, Rumman said Rezko used his "formidable overseas network of business relationships" to join energy consulting companies to win the contract and up to 30 companies were to be involved.

Rumman was also a major investor with Auchi in Riverside Park. In fact, he was CEO of a company that was said to be managing the project until he unexpectedly resigned five months before the start of Rezko's trial. On October 5, 2007, Crain's reported, "Rumman has quietly resigned as CEO of a mixed-use project proposed for a sprawling site on the Near South Side."

Crain's noted that "his resignation is another odd twist in the long-delayed project, which has been mired in controversy because of its ties to Mr. Rezko, who is awaiting trial on federal criminal charges of influence peddling and bank fraud."

The report stated sources said, "Rumman resigned several months ago, although the exact timing could not be determined."  Rezko would later tell the court that he obtained the power plant contract through Rezmar International. In advertising on the internet, Rezmar International claims it is a firm specializing in strategic partnerships between the US and the Middle East. "We leverage strong skills, knowledge and relationships to make money for our investors and partners," Rezmar states.

After Rezko's arrest, in a January 16, 2007 hearing to review his assets, Rezko told the judge, "Rezmar International entered into contract with the Ministry of Electricity in -- of -- Iraq, to build a power plant and sell power to the government. And we were negotiating for over, now, I guess, almost two years."

His attorney explained how Rezmar "won" the bid. "Mr. Rezko and an engineering firm here in the State of Illinois put together a bid, along with other entities; and, then, they won this bid for the contract," he said.  "The company has no assets," he told the judge.

"They were just going to -- if the contract was given, as I understand the financing was going to be a Letter of Credit from the Iraqi government and other financing; and, then, they were going to put together someone to build or supply the electricity," he said.
Rezko told the judge the contract had no value and was canceled in November 2006. The attorney told the court that Rezko had debts in excess of "$50 million."

The US Army Corps of Engineers confirmed the contract for the power plant was no longer in effect in Iraq, according to the December 3, 2006, Sun-Times. However, when reached, the Times said, "Rumman declined to discuss the plant or Alsammarae."

In addition to the power plant, the month before Alsammarae left office, on April 18, 2005, he signed another $50 million contract with the Illinois-based firm called Companion Security, to train Iraqis as power plant security guards.

Companion is another firm with no assets that was thrown together by Rezko and ex-Chicago cop, Daniel Frawley, with an address that turned out to be a small house in La Grange, Illinois owned by Frawley's sister, Maureen Frawley, who was a cop at the time.

The Sun-Times first reported that investigators were looking into the relationship of Alsammarae and Rezko while Alsammarae was still in jail in Iraq in December 2006.

But on March 5, 2008, the Times wrote “a new accusation has surfaced that Rezko paid a $1.5 million bribe in an effort to win a $50 million business deal in Iraq.”

“In a court filing,” the Times said, “Rezko's lawyers say that prosecutors accused him ... of paying the bribe to Aiham Alsammarae, Iraq's former minister of electricity.”

“The prosecution is reportedly relying on information from Daniel Mahru,” the report wrote, “who was cooperating with the Federal investigation for ten months before Rezko was indicted.”

Mahru was an attorney for Companion when it got the Iraqi contract, according to the Times. Prosecutors allege the $1.5 million bribe was paid through an escrow account held by the Chicago-based Bryan Cave law firm.

The names of Obama and Blagojevich became tied to the bid rigging scandal when reports surfaced that Companion had sought their help in carrying out the contract a year after Alsammarae left office, and around the same time he was thrown in jail in Iraq.

In April 2006, Frawley began working with Blagojevich's office to get Iraqi officials to lease a military facility in Illinois for the training camp.

On June 12, 2006, a letter marked “CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS CORRESPONENCE,” from Jill Morgenthaler, "Homeland Security Advisor to the Governor," was sent to the Iraqi Minister of Electrical Power Grid, City of Iraq, the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Defense, stating:

“The state of Illinois is greatly interested in assisting to facilitate the training, within Illinois, of Iraqi Police Recruits charged with the security of the Power Grid generation facilities within the City of Bagdad.”

The letter suggested facilities at the Savanna Army Depot in Western Illinois as “an ideal potential training location.”

“It would be helpful if an itinerary could be arranged for your inspection of the proposed location and a review of its attributes,” Morgenthaler wrote.

After the inspection has been completed and a decision made, she noted, a letter of intent of the Training Contract that you provide “should be received by the State of Illinois.”

“The source of this letter of intent,” she wrote, “should be from any one of the three separate Iraqi Governmental Ministries indicated above (or one of similar authority), together with an indication of the number of trainees to be included in each training cycle and the funding available to insure that your training goals can be met.”

The letter concluded with the statement: “Looking forward to seeing this worthy project’s beginning within Illinois.”

"Since then, Companion has been lobbying officials from Washington to Baghdad about its Iraqi deal," the Sun-Times reported on August 7, 2007.

Companion "beefed up its lobbying efforts" in March in 2006, the Times said, "hiring a Washington attorney who has contacted the U.S. State and Commerce departments."

After the state found a proposed training site, Frawley met with Seamus Ahern, who runs Obama's senate office in Moline, Illinois. "Frawley and Ahern discussed the proposal over a period of about six months," the Times notes.

According to the report, "Obama and Blagojevich viewed Frawley's efforts as a chance to create jobs in the Quad Cities area."

Blagojevich's spokeswoman told the Times that state officials assumed Frawley's contract has "gone away" because they had not heard from Companion since last year.

On August 14, 2007, the Forest Park Review reported: "Almost 16 months ago Sgt. Maureen Frawley's home in nearby La Grange was the site of a bizarre burglary in which more than $100,000 in cash and several guns were allegedly stolen."

"Four days later, though," the Review noted, "the missing items were left on Frawley's doorstep with no apparent explanation."

Frawley told the Review the cash stolen, and returned, had nothing to do with Companion Security and that Daniel was no longer a partner with Rezko. The funds belonged solely to her brother, she told the newspaper.

Citing a La Grange police report, the Sun-Times said Daniel Frawley “became defensive about questions relating to when, where and how he obtained the money."

"He told police he had withdrawn the money — $100 bills in bundles of $5,000 — from a Chicago bank, and his sister was supposed to have put the cash in a safe-deposit box," according to the Times.  His lawyer, George Weaver, told police the money had been “legally obtained by Daniel Frawley through real-estate transactions."

At the time of the report in August 2007, the village administrator told the Review that Maureen was no longer receiving a paycheck from the police department but declined to confirm or deny her employment status.

Both Blagojevich's office and Obama's office now claim they never knew Rezko was partnered with Frawley in the Iraq contract.

Prosecution of corrupt officials halted in Iraq

On October 4, 2007, the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held its first hearing on "Assessing the State of Iraqi Corruption."

The major topic of discussion was a secret order issued by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's office in April 2007, that bars the investigation and referral for prosecution of corruption cases involving the Iraqi president, the Council of Ministers, or any current or former ministers without Maliki's consent, which effectively grants immunity to all high level officials.

The committee also was informed that Maliki's office had issued other orders to prevent further investigation or referrals of specific cases for prosecution, including two instructing authorities to close corruption cases against Maliki's own cousin.

The Bush administration's witness at the hearing was Lawrence Butler from the State Department. When asked whether "the Government of Iraq currently has the political will or the capability to root out corruption within its Government," whether "the Maliki Government is working hard to improve the corruption situation so that he can unite his country" and whether Maliki "obstructed any anticorruption investigations in Iraq to protect his political allies," he refused to answer.

Butler told the lawmakers that, "questions which go to the broad nature of our bilateral relationship with Iraq are best answered in a classified setting."   When asked about the secret order issued by Maliki's office, he claimed the State Department had concluded that the matter was too sensitive to address in public.

Prior to the hearing, the committee reviewed reports prepared by a team of American investigators working out of the Office of Accountability and Transparency at the US Embassy in Iraq in what could be likened to a Board Game investigation of Iraqi officials.

The Iraqi ministers are the equivalent of Secretaries appointed by the President to head federal agencies in the US government. For example, Alsammarae's title might be the Secretary of Energy here, or the minister of defense would be the Secretary of Defense.

The Commission of Public Integrity in Iraq is the agency in charge of investigating corruption and is the equivalent of the FBI.  During their investigation, the Embassy team assessed the cases of corruption in the individual ministries and the ability of the CPI to investigate and prepare cases for prosecution with only 120 investigators.

"Currently, Iraq is not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anticorruption laws," according to the Embassy report.

A review of cases of corruption for the Ministry of Electricity shows there were a total of 175 investigations but the only high level Iraqi official ever convicted in Bagdad is the former minister who is now living in Chicago.

In the Ministry of Interior, the team reported: "There is a general impression in the public and within the anticorruption enforcement establishment that MOI is immune from prosecution of corruption charges unless the subject falls out of favor within MOI."

"The pattern of criminality endemic at MOI is beyond CPI’s capability and charter," the report concludes.

Contract fraud is the greatest violation but according to the Embassy team, CPI investigators assigned to the Ministry of Interior "have unanimously expressed their fear of being assassinated should they aggressively pursue their duties at MOI."

"Groups within MOI function similarly to a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) in the classic sense. MOI is a “legal enterprise” which has been co-opted by organized criminals who act through the “legal enterprise” to commit crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, bribery, etc."

"Unlike CPI officers," they report, "MOI officers carry guns and are extremely dangerous."

Therefore, CPI investigators are too intimidated to conduct serious investigations and the "lack of support from the administration has had a clear negative affect on the morale of the investigators themselves," the study found.

The combined security situation and "the violent character of the criminal elements within the ministries make investigation of corruption too hazardous, unless performed by a tactically robust police force with the support of the Iraqi government."

"Currently this support is lacking," they wrote. Each ministry has an Inspector General's office to investigate corruption within the agency and the Embassy staff reports that:

"Each of the dangers described for the CPI investigators is compounded for the IG investigators. The general level of violence in Baghdad multiplies the intimidation factor in that murders are so common that tying them back to the work place would be difficult even for an accomplished police force.

"Knowing this, those confronted with criminal activity are fully aware of the near immunity available to violent criminals. So great is the danger in the ministries as to make nearly all of the IG actions suspect."

In Iraq, criminal cases are resolved in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. CCCI employs both Trial Judges, who hear cases similar to Judges in the US, and Investigative Judges (IJ), who function more as investigators but can demand the production of documents and compel testimony.

Investigative Judges can be likened "to a hybrid, Federal Agent – Assistant US Attorney," the report notes. A panel of three IJs reviews all CPI investigations, and they determine whether a case is advanced to a criminal proceeding before a Trial Judge.

"Judges are regularly subject to intimidation throughout Iraq," according to the report.
In their assessment, the team interviewed the Supreme Investigative Judge who identified issues including: (1) Interference - history of political pressure being placed upon the judiciary from both Iraq and American interests; and (2) Security - day before the advisors meeting with the IJ, another Judge was assassinated.

"Literally hundreds of arrest warrants remain outstanding," the reports states, "as do court orders to produce evidence, witnesses and documents, all of which remain outstanding and ignored by government officials."

"Currently," the team reports, "anticorruption enforcement forces are so vulnerable as to provide those involved in corruption immunity."

"The acceptance of militia, organized crime and/or common gang infiltration of Iraq Government Ministries must be confronted," the Embassy team concluded.

"The US Embassy should articulate as a matter of policy that the fair and independent prosecutions should be a condition for continued assistance to the Iraqis in anticorruption enforcement," the team recommends.

In his opening statement at the hearing, committee chairman, Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA), stated:  "Whether one supports or opposes the President’s policy, we can’t ignore the reality of corruption in Iraq. And we can’t ignore the reality that corruption is undermining the political progress our troops are fighting and dying for."

The committee heard testimony from Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the former commissioner of the CPI, who told the panel corruption in Iraq "is getting worse" and "has stopped the process of reconstruction in Iraq."

The cost of corruption uncovered so far across all ministries in Iraq, Radhi said, "has been estimated to be as high as $18 billion."

The CPI has lost the ability to fight corruption after implicating Iraqi officials, he says, due to "violence, intimidation and personal attacks."

"Since the establishment of the Commission," he told the committee, "31 employees have been assassinated as well as at least an additional 12 family members."

"In a number of cases," Radhi said, "my staff and their relatives have been kidnapped or detained and tortured prior to being killed."  "Many of these people were gunned down at close range," he stated. Radhi fled Iraq in August 2007, and is seeking asylum in the US.

The committee also heard testimony from Stewart Bowen, US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. "Over the past year," he told panel, "the number of corruption cases under investigation by the CPI increased by almost 70 percent, from 1861 cases in 2006 to 3158 cases thus far in 2007."

"Similarly," he said, "individual Iraqi ministries have reported dramatic increases in the number of corruption cases initiated."  "Thus far in 2007," Bowen reported, "the Ministry of Defense has seen a 57% increase in reported cases, the Ministry of Health a 400% increase, and the Ministry of Trade a 728% increase."

"Political influence recently reached into CPI’s operations," he said, "as evidenced by the presence at this hearing today of Judge Radhi al-Radhi, the recently departed Commissioner of the CPI."

"I have worked with Judge Radhi throughout my tenure," Bowen told lawmakers, "and consistently observed his courage and commitment to accomplish what is perhaps the most dangerous law enforcement job in the world."

He also said Article 136(b) of Iraq’s Criminal Code is a "notorious structural obstacle" impeding anti-corruption efforts. "This provision," he explained, "allows any Iraqi minister to grant by fiat complete immunity from prosecution to any ministry employee accused of wrongdoing."  "In addition," he stated, "an order issued by the Prime Minister this past spring requires Iraqi law enforcement authorities to obtain permission from the Prime Minister’s Office before investigating current or former ministers."

Bowen said an Iraqi council chairman from Baghdad recently told his office that Iraq “had corruption under the regime of Saddam Hussein, but we also had law.”

The US Comptroller General, David Walker, testified that "widespread corruption undermines efforts to develop the government's capacity by robbing it of needed resources, some of which are used to fund the insurgency."

During the hearing, Alsammarae's convictions and escape became a hot topic of debate when Massachusetts Congressman, Stephen Lynch, questioned witnesses about the case.
Radhi told Lynch the amount attributed to Alsammarae's corruption while serving two years as minister was $2 billion.

Lynch quizzed Radhi about his escape. "Mr. Alsammarae, I understand," he said, was arrested and held in prison inside the Green Zone, but he somehow escaped."

"Do you know the facts surrounding that?" he asked.  "I know some of the facts that surround this case," Radhi replied, "and I know that a U.S- protection company has helped him get away."

"Do you know what the name of that U.S. protection agency might have been?" Lynch asked.  "If believe it is DynCorp," the Judge stated.

He said Alsammarae had a three year sentence awaiting him in Iraq and "l1 other charges against him fielded through the Interpol."

Lynch also tried to question Bowen about the case. "I have tried to establish that the former Iraqi Electricity Minister was accused of corruption of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars," he said, and further stated:

"He was arrested. He was brought to the Green zone. I believe it was a DOD facility. We are talking the Unites States Military.  "He was then broken out of that jail or removed from that jail by a U.S. contractor.

"We have evidence or testimony that it was DynCorp."
"Mr. Bowen," Lynch asked, "is that your understanding of the facts of this case?"

"Yes," Bowen said, "but with the one additional fact that he was convicted by that Iraqi court and was awaiting sentencing."  "Is there an investigation ongoing relative to the handling of this case?" Lynch asked.  "I can't comment on our ongoing investigations," Bowen replied.

"Okay," Lynch said, "so if it is an ongoing investigation, it must be ongoing ..."

"Can you tell me," he asked Bowen, "the allegation that this gentleman is in Chicago, is that correct?"  "Is that your understanding?" Lynch asked.  "That is what I have heard, yes," Bowen replied.

The committee later learned that on September 25, 2007, or about two weeks before the hearing, the State Department instructed officials not to answer questions that ask for:

"Broad statements/assessments which judge or characterize the quality of Iraqi governance or the ability or determination of the Iraqi government to deal with corruption, including allegations that investigations were thwarted/stifled for political reasons."

The Department also retroactively classified the Embassy reports on corruption that had been distributed as "sensitive but unclassified," and even went so far as to retroactively classify portions of the previously cleared report that Comptroller General Walker released at the hearing.

Following the hearing, Waxman published a commentary in the November 5, 2007, LA Times with the heading: "The Iraqi prime minister is presiding over a government that is stealing us blind...."

Confronting these facts is difficult, Waxman wrote, when:  "Nearly 4,000 American soldiers have been killed and another 28,000 wounded in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. No one wants to believe that these sacrifices were made to establish and support a regime riddled with fraud and graft...."

In a brief speech, Alsammarae told the audience: "If the Iraqi people and the American help us for the next year-and-a-half, I almost guarantee -- I guarantee it to the President but I almost guarantee it to the American people that we will have different Iraq."

"We need the help of the Americans right now," he said, "to build Iraq so you have a secure country here and you have a secure world and we have a secure Iraq."

Less then three months later, other members of the “Combine” flew to Washington on a private jet to attend a White House Christmas party on December 3, 2003, including Rezko, Levine, Cellini, and Kjellander, along with their wives, with an invitation obtained from the White House by Kjellander.

During a March 14, 2008 interview with the Sun-Times, Obama was asked: "Did you ever meet Nadhmi Auchi or Dr. Aiham Alsammarae?"

"I have to say I do not recall meeting them. It's been reported that a dinner Tony hosted at the four seasons, I don't have the exact date, so I don't know whether it was the before November '04 when I hadn't been elected but had already won the primary or whether it was after the election, in which I was . . .
"Tony called and asked if I could stop by because he had a number of friends that he had invited to dinner and he wanted mew to meet them.

"I told him that I would be happy to come by if my schedule allowed it. And it did. Although I couldn't, I think, stay for dinner, so I remember meeting a bunch of people who I had not met before. I frankly don't remember what their names were.

"Business was not discussed at the meeting. It was more of a social meeting and they asked me questions about the senate race and so fourth and so on.

"I have no specific recollection. They may have been there. I can't say unequivocally that I did not meet them, but I just don't recall."

Combine plots to shut down Operation Board Games

Testimony during the Rezko trial in late April, shows the "Combine,” was working with the Bush administration for years to pull a stunt with Fitzgerald similar to what Maliki pulled with Judge Radhi in Iraq.

On April 22, 2008, prosecutors dropped a bombshell by informing the judge that co-schemer, Steve Loren, who already pled guilty, was ready to testify that he was told by Cellini, that Kjellander had worked with Karl Rove to get the leader of the Operation Board Games fired....

Cellini's real estate investment firm had received hundreds of millions of dollars from pension funds. Loren had testified earlier about a meeting in February 2004, where Cellini and other co-schemers discussed approving a deal where his firm would receive a new $50 million investment, but the amount approved ended up being $100 million after Cellini told the co-schemers he wanted more.

The morning after the prosecution announced that Loren would testify, Hamilton dropped another bombshell by informing the judge that Jordanian-native and co-schemer, Ali Ata, the former head of the Illinois Finance Authority, had pled guilty and entered into a plea agreement and he would testify that he received the same information in 2004....

She said the conversation was about having Fitzgerald replaced by someone else, "so individuals who have been cooperating in this investigation will be dealt with differently."

In court filings, the government identifies Kjellander as having "received $809,000 in consulting fees for the 2003 sale of state bonds, much of which prosecutors believe was funneled through a Rezko associate to Rezko assignees...."

Maloof is one of the donors used to funnel two $10,000 contributions to Obama through bank accounts from Rezko‘s pizza businesses from the pension fund kickback. An exhibit produced for the jury shows Maloof also made a $10,000 contribution to Blagojevich.

As predicted, on May 1, 2008, Ata testified that he was assured there was a plan in place to remove Fitzgerald after Bush was reelected in 2004. "Mr. Rezko informed me that they had just finished meeting with Mr. Kjellander and that there will be a change in U.S. attorney's office come the new administration," he said.

"Mr. Kjellander will talk to Karl Rove and make a change in the U.S. attorney's office," he said Rezko told him. Ata told the jury he knew from Rezko that Kjellander was a Republican insider and had a direct relationship with Rove.

Another time, Ata said, Rezko told him the investigation was heating up but instructed him to hold firm. "Mr. Rezko said the FBI was approaching people ... asking people to cooperate,” he told the jury 'Those who do will be dealt with," Ata said Rezko told him.

Even in 2006, he said, Rezko assured him that things were going to turn out all right because of a plan to get rid of Fitzgerald. When asked why he believed Rezko could get him removed, Ata said, "Mr. Rezko has the influence and power to do that."

Ata told prosecutors he lied to the FBI in December 2005, because he was encouraged to be a "team player" by people he believed to be acting on Rezko’s behalf. When he received a grand jury subpoena in late 2005, he said, people contacted him in an effort to stop him from cooperating.  After he met with Federal agents the first time, Ata said, he got a voice-mail from Michael Rumman. The voice mail said Rumman was traveling with "our friend," meaning Rezko, and asked Ata to delay meeting with investigators.

On his final day on the stand, Ata told the jury he finally agreed to cooperate with the Feds in April 2008, after an unnamed person delivered a threat. He testified that prosecutors once had him wear a wire to make a recording after the person threatened him.

Ata told the jury he delivered one $25,000 contribution to Blagojevich at Rezko's office in the latter part of 2002, and the three men discussed the prospects of Ata getting an appointment in the administration. He said people at the office that day included Blagojevich's campaign chief and later chief of staff, Lon Monk, Christopher Kelly, and state Representative Jay Hoffman.

"I learned that Mr. Hoffman was part of a select group of advisers that were referred to as the kitchen cabinet," Ata told the jury.  “The way Ali Ata described it, the waiting room in the North Side office of Antoin "Tony" Rezko seemed as busy as an airport terminal,” the Tribune noted on May 1, 2008.

Ata brought another $25,000 check to a fundraiser on July 25, 2003, and he was appointed to lead the Finance Authority.  Ata made a $5,000 donation to Obama less than a month earlier on June 30, 2003. Ata is also an investor in Riverside Park. Almost without fail, the people identified in the Board Games cases as investors in Riverside Park contributed to Obama's US senate campaign.

According to the Sun-Times, to raise the $8 million to spring Rezko out of jail in April, in addition to the $2 million worth of property pledged by Alsammarae, six people who are "current or former state employees," also put up property.

The list has three current employees from Rumman's former Department of Central Management Services, including Jenan Shamoun, Donald Lynch, and Mustafa Abdalla....

Campaign records show Mustafa Abdalla gave Obama $1,000 on June 30, 2003.
Rezko himself also came up with $380,000 in cash. He claims he raised the money by selling his shares in Riverside Park - again.

His attorneys told the court that only about half of what Rezko received from the sale was used to post the $380,000 bond, and the rest was mostly used to pay their legal fees.

During the hearing, the judge said she had spoken with a lawyer for GMH, and was told that Rezko was officially bought out in February 2008. She asked Rezko whether he or any of his companies still had any shares in the South Loop property.

In response, Rezko stated: "None."
Curtain Time For Barack Obama
- Part II
By Evelyn Pringle
16 May, 2008
Read Part I

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald does not make a habit of destroying pubic officials by listing them in indictments for no reason and the only two political candidates identified as receiving campaign money from Operation Board Games kickback schemes are Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and the US Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.

Instead of referring to Board Games as the “Rezko” case, before long the media will likely be calling it the “Blagojevich” case. However, because the governor did not become the presidential candidate, when the scandal is recorded in the history books it will be the “Barack Obama” case.

Curtain Time Part II will show that Obama was the inside guy in the Illinois senate as far as setting up the Health Facilities Planning Board to extort contributions from companies in exchange for the approval of applications to build medial facilities.

Obama was chairman of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee in January 2003. A few articles in the media have mentioned that Obama sat on a committee that reviewed matters related to the Planning Board in conjunction with the Governor's staff but none have discussed his integral part in getting the bill passed

A review of senate records from January 2003 to August 2003, shows Obama played a major role as chairman of that committee, in pushing through Senate Bill 1332, that led to the "Illinois Health Facilities Planning Act," which reduced the number of members on the Board from 15 to 9, making the votes much easier to rig.

Democratic Senator Susan Garrett sponsored the bill in the senate, and the chief co-sponsor was Republican Senator Dale Righter. These two senators were also on the Human Services Committee with Obama.

The bill was filed with the senate secretary on February 20, 2003, and assigned to Human Services Committee for review on February 27. Less than a month later, as chairman, Obama sent word that the bill should be passed on March 13, 2003.

On May 31, 2003, the House and Senate passed the bill and the only senator listed in the "yes" votes mentioned in the Board Games indictments is Obama.

Blagojevich made the effective date June 27, 2003, and the co-schemers already had the people lined up to stack the Board and rig the votes with full approval from Obama.

As discussed fully in Curtain Time for Obama Part I , the Republicans and Democrats worked together in setting up the Planning Board scheme because the Combine as a whole would profit.

During the trial, Stuart Levine testified that when he sought reappointment to the Planning Board, he told Republican co-schemer, Bill Cellini, to tell the Blagojevich administration he would vote however they wanted when approving projects.

He told the jury he had the same understanding with the two prior Republican governors, Jim Edgar, and George Ryan, who is now sitting in prison due to Fitzgerald’s successful prosecution of a corruption case against him.

A June 2003 email exchange produced in the trial shows Obama was one of eight officials who received the names of the nominees for the new Board ahead of time, from the office of David Wilhelm, who headed Blagojevich's 2002 campaign for governor.

Tony Rezko's name does not appear in the email. In fact, his attorney made the point to the jury that the exchange was from Blagojevich's general counsel, Susan Lichtenstein, and Wilhelm's office, and indicated the appointees were recommended by Wilhelm and supported by those who received the memo.

The memo said, “we worked closely over the past six months” with eight officials including three state senators.

Jennifer Thomas, a former aide in Blagojevich's patronage office, testified that she attended regular weekly meetings at Rezko’s office between the spring of 2003 and November 2004, and Rezko floated names and specifically said Levine should be reappointed to the new Board.

The Senate bill said, the “Board shall be appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate." But the Senate Confirmation Hearings were a joke. For instance, the Feds recorded Levine talking to co-schemer, Jon Bauman, the day Levine learned he was approved by the Senate from the executive secretary of the Board.

Levine told Bauman he ran into Jeffrey Marks, who said "congratulations on your appointment," and Levine asked for what. Marks said, "well the Senate Confirmation Hearings on Health Facility Plan Board members."

He told Levine Senate President, Emil Jones, only allowed 2 members to be approved and "that was you and the other person he just put in."

"Isn't that hysterical 'cause you know they had this big battle going on," Levine told Bauman.

Laughing away, Levine said, "don't you just love it."  "I'm one of those independents and not part of the block." "Well, good, you know it's good to be just a true independent civil servant," Bauman said laughing along with Levine.  "Is, is that a good thing," Levine replied, "I've never been that."

Corrupt appointees fund Obama and Blagojevich campaigns
The corrupt new appointees were all contributors to the presidential hopeful, Blagojevich, and the US senate hopeful Obama.

The previous Act allowed the Board itself to select a "Chairman and other officers as deemed necessary." But the new law stated: "The Governor shall designate one of the members to serve as Chairman and shall name as full-time Executive Secretary."

The Board’s then sitting-chairman, Thomas Beck, who was originally appointed by a Republican governor, testified under a grant of immunity that he brought a $1,000 check to Rezko on July 15, 2003, to make sure Blagojevich reappointed him.

A few weeks later, Beck said, Rezko called to say he would be reappointed along with a Republican holdover Levine. Beck also testified that Rezko told him Blagojevich was set to appoint Rezko’s three doctor friends to complete the rigged voting bloc. He said he met the doctors in August 2003, at the first meeting of the new Board.

Dr Michel Malek gave Obama $10,000 a little over a month before the first meeting on June 30, 2003. He also donated $25,000 to Blagojevich three weeks later on July 25, 2003, and gave Obama another $500 in September 2003. Malek was an investor in Riverside Park.

Dr Fortunee Massuda donated $25,000 to Blagojevich on July 25, 2003, and gave a total of $2,000 to Obama on different dates. Massuda's husband, Charles Hannon, is a co-schemer in the pension fund case and testified against Rezko in the trial.

Dr Imad Almanaseer contributed a total of $3,000 to Obama after he landed the appointment. On March 13, 2008, Almanaseer testified against Rezko and told the jury he was an investor in Rezko's fast-food businesses.

This doctor's son, Ahmed Almanaseer, was given a trade office intern position with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Ahmed is president of a bilingual human resources "site aimed at linking Iraqi job seekers with the companies engaged in the reconstruction [in Iraq] efforts," according to Rezko Watch.

Corrupt Planning Board in action
The first project approved by the new Board was for Mercy Health Systems, for which Bear Stearns served as a bond underwriter. The deal was to earn $1.5 million contribution for Blagojevich.

In attempt to help seal the deal, when Mercy's application was submitted to Planning Board staff for review, the Department of Human Services sent a letter on October 23, 2003, to Donald Jones, Acting Supervisor of Project Review, with a recommendation for approval of the application, stating:

"We at the Illinois Department of Human Services know how very important it is to have experienced providers such as Mercy Health System and believe they will meet the health care needs in South East McHenry County."

Fitzgerald also presented an exhibit to the jury to show that Blagojevich’s director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Jack Lavin, sent a letter to Jones recommending approval. The exhibit also contained letters sent by the directors of the Department of Public Aid, the Department of Aging and the Department of Revenue, bringing the number to 5, urging Jones to support approval for Mercy.

The Planning Board staff still recommended the rejection of Mercy’s proposal. On March 11, 2008, Jones told the jury that experts found the application failed to meet 18 criteria set up for the establishment of a new hospital. He said it was also too close to other hospitals that had too many empty beds and services not fully utilized.
The day before the vote in December 2003, Mercy hired the Chicago-based law firm of Gardner, Carton and Douglas. Gardner had donated $25,000 to Blagojevich in July 2003.

Although the application was rejected the first time, Mercy moved for reconsideration and won approval at the April 21, 2004 meeting. Beck testified that after the meeting, he and Levine drove to Rezko's office to tell him the plan was approved and Rezko was there with Christopher Kelly.
Once approved, the plan was for co-schemer Jacob Kiferbaum to pad the construction costs on the hospital and pay the kickback through a bogus consulting contract with Levine's business associate, Dr Robert Weinstein.

After helping set up the Planning Board, Dave Wilhelm became a consultant for Edward Hospital. Edward also wanted approval to build a new hospital. On April 9, 2008, Levine testified that he met with Wilhelm and another Edward lobbyist in the summer of 2003, and came away with the impression that Wilhelm's contribution to the team was clout with the Blagojevich administration.

Wilhelm's investment firm, Hopewell Ventures, also received approval for deals from the Teacher pension fund. On April 10, 2008, Levine told the jury, "Mr. Rezko told me that Gov. Blagojevich and Mr. Rezko wanted to keep track of what clients Mr. Wilhelm had before various boards in the state of Illinois."

"And they wanted to keep track of what success he had and what success he did not have," he said. Rezko and the governor wanted "to assess the value of Mr. Wilhelm's contribution to helping Gov. Blagojevich," Levine testified.

Wilhelm's clients should not win business "unless I was specifically told by Mr. Rezko that he wanted him to be successful," he told the jury.

Levine said he then got word to Edward officials that Wilhelm was on the outs with Blagojevich and set up an elaborate scheme to convince Edward that their application would be approved if Edward hired a construction company owned by Kiferbaum to build the new medical center and hospital and Bear Stearns as a $200 million bond underwriter.

Board chairman, Beck, received fees from Bear Stearns and Bear Stearns also employed Beck’s son, David Beck, as a managing director in its municipal bond office in Chicago.

As a member of the Planning Board, Levine was prohibited from engaging in ex parte communications with applicants with matters pending before the Board. So in order to protect Levine, Kiferbaum and Republican insider, P Nicholas Hurtgen, met Edward CEO, Pam Davis, in place of Levine.

Hurtgen wanted his employer, Bear Stearns, to receive the financing work. On December 22, 2003, Hurtgen talked to Davis, and said if Edward hired Kiferbaum, he thought Edward would not have any more difficulties with the Board. Hurtgen said he was selling “clout,” and Levine was the “clout.”

The following day, Kiferbaum and Hurtgen both met with Davis in attempt to persuade her to hire Kiferbaum. Kiferbaum told Davis that he had been working with Mercy and its application to build a new hospital was going to be approved.

In response to their claims, Davis asked Kiferbaum and Hurtgen to prove they were telling the truth about Levine’s role by setting up a meeting with Levine.

Levine agreed to set up a meeting where he and Hurtgen would just happen to bump into to Davis and Kiferbaum while they were having breakfast at the same restaurant. Levine instructed Kiferbaum to tell Davis she should not ask anything direct about her project because of the bar against ex parte communications.

But the extortion attempt backfired when Davis went to the Feds in December 2003, and kicked off the investigation now known as Operation Board Game. The Feds put wiretaps on the phone lines in Levine's home, and between April 8, 2004 and May 21, 2004, caught most of the co-schemers on tape.

And as planned, on April 18, 2004, Davis went to the restaurant for breakfast with Kiferbaum. Levine and Hurtgen walked over to their table and Levine told her he was the Chairman of the Board of the Chicago Medical School and Kiferbaum had done work for them. He said Kiferbaum was a person upon whom one can rely and whose word can be depended on.

Two days later, Edward faxed Kiferbaum a letter stating Edward would not hire Kiferbaum. He called Levine and told him about the refusal and the next day the Board voted against the proposal and issued a notice of an intent-to-deny the application.

The Feds moved in on Levine on May 20, 2004. In his plea agreement, Levine acknowledged that an estimate of the benefit from the Edward scheme would have been approximately $1,810,000.

Feds track Obama's visits to Rezko

In the media, Obama always made it sound like he rarely saw Rezko, saying they met for breakfast or lunch once or twice a year. However, the FBI mole John 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,“ according to the February 10, 2008 Sun-Times.

During his March 14, 2008 interview, the Times told Obama, Thomas is an FBI mole and he "recently told us that he saw you coming and going from Rezko's office a lot."

"And three other sources told us that you and Rezko spoke on the phone daily."
"Is that true?" the reporter asked.
"No," Obama said, "That's not accurate."

"I think what is true," he said, "is that, it depends on the period of time."
"I've known him for 17 years," Obama stated. "There were stretches of time where I would see him once or twice a year."

He told the Times, "when he was involved in finance committee for the U.S. Senate race, or the state senate races, or the U.S. Congressional race, then he was an active member."

"During the U.S. Senate race, there's be stretches of like a couple of weeks - for example prior to him organizing the fundraiser that he did for us - where I would probably be talking to him once a day to make sure that was going well," he said.

"But the typical relationship was one that was fond," he added. "We would see each other."

"But there would be no reason for me to be seeing him that often," he stated.

This issue may be sorted out soon enough because Fitzgerald’s charts matching up Obama’s contributions, visits and calls are bound to be every bit as thorough as the ones produced to prove Rezko is guilty as charged in the first trial. They simply were not produced because they were not needed to prove the defendant guilty in the first case.

As an example of what records might be squirreled away, consider that an FBI agent presented a chart to the jury on April 28, 2008, showing 257 calls from Rezko’s phones to Blagojevich’s chief of staff, Lon Monk, between March 2004 and May 2004 alone.

He also had a list of all calls between Levine and Rezko from November 2002 to May 2004. Rezko’s attorney brought out a point that backs the assertion that just because records on Obama were not shown, does not mean they do not exist.

The attorney questioned the agent about missing calls, and specifically those to and from Christopher Kelly. The agent first said records were not available, but later admitted the government probably does have records on Kelly that were not available to him.
In addition, the contributions extorted through the Planning Board scheme were for the intended presidential candidate, Blagojevich. Obama’s US senate war chest was already funded and by the time these kickbacks were paid that campaign would be over.

But Obama did end up with $20,000 from the very first kickback paid in the pension fund scheme set up through the Board of the Teacher's Retirement System.

Elie Maloof and Joseph Aramanda, the straw donors used to funnel the contributions to Obama, also made $1,000 contributions of their own for his failed run for Congress in 2000, on the same day March 17, 2000.

In addition, Aramanda gave $500 to Obama's senate campaign on June 30, 2003. In the summer of 2005, Aramanda's teenage son landed a coveted intern position in Obama's senate office in Washington.

Obama also received contributions directly from the persons appointed to the pension board for the express purpose of rigging the votes. On June 30, 2003, appointee, Jack Carriglio contributed $1,000.

The other appointee, Anthony Abboud, donated $500 to Obama on June 30, 2003, $250 on March 5, 2004, and $1,000 on June 25, 2004.

Michael Winter, who prosecutors say agreed to serve as a funnel for kickbacks paid through an investment firm in one scheme donated $3,000 to Obama on June 30, 2003.

Planning Board Scheme unravelsWhen interviewing with the Sun-Times, Obama claimed not to know Rezko was under investigation for influence peddling in the months leading up to June 2005, stating:

"During the time that I was purchasing the house, there were some noises about Tony having potential problems. But they . . . hadn't risen to the attention that they ultimately would."

“And I viewed him as . . . purchasing the lot as a friend purchasing a lot, somebody who was interested in real estate development and who was experienced in real estate development.”

The claim that there were merely "some noises about Tony" was a blatant lie and the Times should have called him on it.

Obama was still chairman of the Human Services Committee when lawmakers learned Fitzgerald was on to the Planning Board scheme in the spring of 2004, a year before Obama entered into the real estate deal in June 2005. On July 11, 2004, the Sun-Times reported: “A key Blagojevich fund-raiser, Tony Rezko, played a role in recommending appointees to the board.”

With stories appearing about the scandal almost daily, Illinois House Speaker, Michael Madigan, introduced legislation to fire the board and Blagojevich had no choice but to issue an executive order in July 2004, stating:

“In light of recent allegations concerning the propriety of certain board actions, the governor hereby imposes a moratorium on all meetings and actions of the board until the board is reconstituted by law.”

By this time, Levine had already resigned and Almanaseer asked not to be reappointed. Both the House and Senate voted to give all members the boot at the end of July. But Obama's name is conspicuously missing from the session on July 24, 2004, when Bill 7307 was passed to get rid of legislation he pushed through a year earlier.

The transcripts from the sessions in July 2004 show lawmakers in both parties were outraged over the scheme. However, nothing much changed, because the new bill included the same process for vetting and appointing members to the new Board.

During the July 24, 2004 session, Senator Peter Roskam questioned the wisdom of passing a bill that is "silent as to any changes in the vetting."

Referring to Blagojevich, he noted the current "vetter" and "backgrounder" who "placed all of these individuals on the Health Facilities Planning Board, apparently completely failed in that vetting and backgrounding."

The bill "leaves the same amount of authority in the same person that we're criticizing implicitly today for failing to appoint good people," he said.

Senate President Jones defended the process and the corrupt members. “Let it be understood,” he said, “that those mere allegations were against -- were made as regard to members who had been reappointed, and that’s the Chairman and several other members had been reappointed to the Board.”

“And so, this legislation is in no way to say that the Governor’s Office didn’t do its proper job,” Jones stated. But then the Senate had to advise and consent to the "vetted" candidates and as noted above, Jones played a big part in the reappointment of Levine.

Jones also told his fellow lawmakers, “this bill does not cast any aspersions on any current Board members because they are mere allegations.“

“We don’t know any facts,” he said.

During the session, Senator Kirk Dillard had the apparent audacity to ask Jones, "is there anything in this bill that prohibits a member of the Health Facilities reconstituted Planning Board from giving campaign contributions to politicians?"

"No, that's not included in the Act," Jones answered.
"So, it would still be possible for somebody to give a large, say twenty-five-thousand- dollar contribution one day to a political figure and get reappointed or appointed to this Board a couple of days later?" Dillard asked.

"There is no such prohibition," Jones said, "for this Board or any other board, be it the Gaming Board, be -- there is no such prohibition."

Indictment headlines non-stop during Obama's real estate deals
The first indictment in the Planning Board case came a month before the mansion deal was finalized. On May 9, 2005, CBS Channel 2 Chicago, reported, "Stuart Levine is accused of using his position on a powerful state health board to cut himself and his buddies in on hospital construction contracts worth $113 million."

Hurtgen and Kiferbaum were also charged for their part in the Edward extortion scheme.
CBS pointed out that before joining Bear Stearns, Hurtgen “worked in the administration of then-Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson as deputy secretary in the state Department of Administration, which supervised state bond issues.”

On May 10, 2005, the Sun-Times reported Levine, “who has given more than $1.6 million to mostly Republican state politicians since 1993, was re-appointed to the planning board -- as well as the state Teachers' Retirement System board -- at the urging of ... Rezko.”
Levine was rousted out of bed by FBI agents, the Times said, “and hauled into court on fraud charges alleging kickbacks, influence-peddling and insider dealing.”

John Glennon, a former adviser to Republican Governor George Ryan, was also charged with “criminal conspiracy for concealing kickbacks in the financing and construction of two Illinois hospitals and lying to federal authorities."

The Republican Combine member Glennon gave $1,000 to Obama on January 8, 2004.

At the time, Fitzgerald would not say whether anyone in Blagojevich's office had been questioned or who else was tied to the scheme. But the Times quoted FBI Agent, Robert Grant, as saying: "Stay tuned; there will be more charges in the future."

This article noted that Kiferbaum was already cooperating. Five days later, the Times reported Rezko “had a hand in staffing decisions at the scandal-tainted Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board.”

On May 20, 2005, the Times said, “Two Rezko associates gave Blagojevich $25,000 each just days after the governor named them to a state panel.”

However, the reporters either failed to notice, or failed to mention, that panel member Malek gave $10,000 to Obama on June 30, 2003.

Less than 3 months before Obama bought 10-feet of the lot, on October 31, 2005, the Times reported: “Investigations of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board and state Teachers' Retirement System have yielded federal charges against six people.”

The article also noted that, “in a guilty plea ... Joseph Cari alleged he had been told by a now-indicted former pension board member that Blagojevich and two top fund-raisers, Antoin "Tony" Rezko and Christopher G. Kelly, schemed to award pension business to consultants, lawyers and investment firms who donated to Blagojevich.”

Cari donated $1,335 to Obama’s campaign and gave $10,000 to Blagojevich. During the trial, Cari testified that Blagojevich, Rezko and Kelly tried to convince him to take over the national fundraising campaign for Blagojevich's presidential bid.

Obama's senate finance committee during Planning Board scheme
In his interview with the Tribune on March 14, Obama said Rezko "was a part of our finance committee and was listed as part of our finance committee."
In 2003 and 2004, his finance committee raised the money as the Planning Board scheme was set up and the scandal unraveled. Yet Obama told the Tribune in regard to Rezko, "at that time, there were no indications that he was involved in anything inappropriate."

Apparently, Obama expects the public to believe that nobody on this committee bothered to tell him he received a single contribution of $10,000, and the money came from a person he just recommended for the Board.

Other members of the committee included Rezko's wife Rita, and Valerie Jarrett, who got her jump start into a lucrative real estate career in the Combine's Daley administration. She now serves as chairman of Obama's presidential finance committee.

Jarrett racked up eight years in Chicago government, first as deputy corporation counsel for Finance and Development, then as deputy chief of staff to Daley and finally, as commissioner of Chicago's Department of Planning and Development, according to a summary of her achievements obtained from the Business Week website on April 8, 2008.

While serving as Commissioner, Jarrett "consolidated the Department of Planning, Economic Development and Urban Renewal; implemented a model program for the revitalization of three Chicago neighborhoods; and created a business express unit to cut red tape to service Chicago businesses," says the Cook County Information Center.

Obama's introduction into the "Combine" came when his wife Michelle was hired by Jarrett in the early 1990s, and served as Jarrett’s assistant in Daley’s office and followed her to the Department of Planning and Development.

Jarrett was appointed chairman of the University of Chicago Medical Center Board in June 2006. She was also made chairman of a newly created Executive Committee of that Board, according to a June 13, 2006 University announcement. In addition, Jarrett was named vice-chair of the University's Board of Trustees, the announcement states.

Michelle landed a high paying job at the University of Chicago Hospitals. Two months after Obama became a US senator, she was appointed vice president for community and external affairs. Tax returns show the promotion nearly tripled her pay to $317,000 in 2005, from $122,000 in 2004.

On February 14, 2008, Wilhelm endorsed Obama in a call with reporters, citing the senator's "masterful" campaign organization and strategy as well as his "undeniable momentum."

"He has outworked, outorganized and outraised his opponents every step of the way," Wilhelm said. "The Obama campaign, win or lose, will serve as a model for future generations to come."

Wilhelm’s firm has received a subpoena for records related to pension fund investments.
Curtain Time For Barack Obama -
Part IV
By Evelyn Pringle
17 May, 2008
Part III

The solution to the problems arising from the unsuccessful attempts to shut down Operation Board Games would be for Barack Obama to become president and issue a bipartisan pardon to all members of the “Combine” who funded his seat in the US Senate. The scam worked when Scooter Libby took the fall for the Bush administration.

However, that might not be so easy. US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has made quite a name for himself eliminating the corruption in Illinois right down the line from the governor’s office to the Cook County Board to Mayor Richard Daley’s political mafia in Chicago.

And Illinois voters are behind their new Elliot Ness. A May 30, 2007 poll by the Glengariff Group found voters support the job he is doing by "a very wide and very strong margin.”

The poll asked voters if they approve or disapprove and 62.4% approve while only 11.4% disapprove. The poll showed his highest approval came from non-Chicago, Cook County voters at 73.6% approve and 9.1% disapprove with highest overall approval coming from Democrats.

On April 15, 2008, the Combine was dealt a major blow when an appellate court upheld Fitzgerald’s conviction of four men charged with running the corrupt hiring system in Daley's City Hall. The written ruling states in part: "It is hard to take too seriously the contention that the defendants did not know that by creating a false hiring scheme that provided thousands of lucrative city jobs to political cronies, falsifying documents and lying repeatedly about what they were doing, they were perpetrating a fraud.”
"By setting up a false bureaucracy, the defendants arguably cheated the city out of hundreds of millions of dollars," the judges wrote.

“The ruling sent waves of angst through City Hall, Gov. Blagojevich's office and other government offices where some had hoped the court would find the age-old practice of giving plum government jobs to cronies was legal,” the April 16, 2008, Sun-Times reported.

Patrick Collins, lead prosecutor in the case, told the Times he welcomed the ruling. "In my opinion, the decision that came down today blessed the aggressive posture that the U.S. Attorney's office has taken in corruption cases," he said.

"A contrary decision would have had a chilling effect on the future cases considered by the U.S. Attorney's office," he told the Times.
“The decision triggered immediate anxiety within Blagojevich's inner circle because of the likelihood it could embolden the feds to now aggressively pursue hiring fraud charges against former high-level aides to the governor,” the Times wrote.

But that’s not to say Blagojevich has anything to worry about. A Federal court assigned Julia Nowicki to monitor the illegal hiring practices in Cook County and on April 15, 2008, Chicago's ABC channel 7 news reported that Nowicki said the hiring system “is so inept that people get typing jobs- without taking a typing test, no applicant is subjected to background checks, and insiders find out about jobs before the general public does.”

The former President of the Cook Country Board, John Stroger’s son, Todd, is now the President, whose candidacy was supported wholeheartedly by Obama, right along with Mayor Daley and Blagojevich, in the midst of the corruption scandals.

The elimination of the Combine's pay-to-play schemes is also an illusion. On April 2, 2008, Crain’s Chicago Business news wrote: “Just months after receiving a pair of six-figure, no-bid contracts, Cook County's new Washington, D.C., lobbyist is hosting a fundraiser for the official who awarded him that work: County Board President Todd Stroger.”
“Lobbyist Richard Boykin is holding the fundraiser for Mr. Stroger,” the report stated, “at the Loop offices of Mr. Boykin's law firm, Barnes & Thornburg LLP.” An arrogant Stroger spokesperson told Crain’s Boykin "can throw a fundraiser for whoever he wants."

Cook County Commissioner, Tony Peraica, called the new contract and subsequent fundraiser "a perfect example of the kind of play-to-pay politics that is pervasive" in local government. "There's an absolute quid pro quo connection," he told Crain‘s.

Combine members throw in the towelThe Tony Rezko trial opened the door to more Board Game cases not yet tried and more Combine members threw in the towel. Ali Ata, the former director of the Illinois Finance Authority, entered into a plea agreement on April 22, 2008.

The Authority was established by Blagojevich in 2004, “to support the Governor of Illinois' economic development agenda," and "IFA approves about $3 billion in project financing each year," according to its web site.

Ata pled guilty to charges that included tax fraud, and lying to the FBI in saying he received nothing in return for $50,000 in contributions to Blagojevich when according to the plea agreement, he did "receive something for those contributions, specifically employment with a state agency ... with an annual salary of approximately $127,000."

The agreement notes that Ata met with Blagojevich, not Rezko, in 2000 or 2001, and Blagojevich asked for his support because he was contemplating a run for higher office. Ata testified that he held his first Blagojevich fundraiser in the 1990s when he was asked to raise money for Blagojevich‘s run for Congress within the Arab community.

Ata made a $5,000 donation to Obama on June 30, 2003. Talat Othman was also appointed to this Board, and he donated $1,000 to Obama on June 30, 2003. David Gustman was made chairman, and his wife, Lisa, also gave Obama $1,000 on June 30.

Ata is a former president of the Chicago Chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. He represents “a deeper corruption” in the Arab American community, “an aspect of the story that has not received much attention,” according to a May 2, 2008 report by Ray Hanania in the Southwest News-Herald.

Hanania points out that many in the Arab community are calling Ata a “rat.” But he’s not alone, Hanania says:

“The real rats are those who used their positions as “leaders” to rape and pillage their own community. The real rats are the so-called “leaders” who worked to benefit themselves pretending they were doing it for the benefit of the community.”

In his report, Hanania explains how Ata and others would often gather at a “hookah” cafĂ© on Harlem Avenue, where they helped organize political dinners attended by Arab Americans from the Southwest suburbs at which politicians where “honored.”

“These Arab community “leaders,” he says, “would tell the community that if they bought tickets to their “candidate’s nights,” their organization fundraisers or donated through them to local politicians, these politicians would respond by giving the Arab American community empowerment.”
“They said the politicians would give the Arab Americans a voice in their governments,” he reports. “In truth,” Hanania says, “these political leaders lied.”

“They did get jobs, contracts and clout,” he notes, “but the people who benefited were not members of the community but rather the relatives, children, friends and business associates of these leaders.”
Ata has apparently done quite well as a member of the Combine. In 2004, his net worth was $12 million, according to the Tribune.

During the Rezko trial, Ata testified that he had about $2 million invested in Rezko projects, which include Riverside Park, and wanted to get it back someday. Rezko’s attorney got him to admit that he really did not have to worry about the money he gave Blagojevich.

In one state deal, Ata and three business partners, Faysal Mohamed, Fuad Mohamed and Refat Zayed, “took in more than $3.2 million from taxpayers by leasing a West Side office building to the state over 10 years,” according to the June 6, 2005 Sun-Times.

On May 4, 2008, the Times reported that the Blagojevich administration is still “paying Ata and his partners more than $800,000 a year to lease space for the Department of Human Services in the building.”

Three months after Ata was appointed to head the Finance Authority, the Times says, “the Blagojevich administration agreed to a 10-year extension of his company's lease, to 2014.”

Ata left his position in March 2005, when a state audit major problems at the agency. A month later, Ata was offered a three-year contract worth $165,600 to be a consultant to the IFA on a coal-related energy initiative. However, he turned it down, according to the Times, after the newspaper began inquiring about his employment and a previous building lease deal with the city of Chicago.

Rezko schemes to hide assets from creditors
The second Rezko indictment involves Ata and the Finance Authority, and alleges fraud in financial transactions with the General Electric Capital Corp in connection with the sale of a string of Papa John pizza restaurants in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The indictment and plea agreement provide a preview for the scheme hatched to conceal Rezko's assets from creditors through Obama's secret Land Trust.

When announcing the arrests, Fitzgerald stated: "The new indictment is part of Operation Board Games, an ongoing federal public corruption investigation of insider-dealing, influence-peddling and kickbacks involving private interests and public duties related to various state boards and non-profit organizations."

Co-schemer Abdelhamid Chaib, is the former the director of Rezko Concessions. Blagojevich appointed Chaib's wife to a position with the Department of Employment Security Review Board.

An exhibit presented to the jury shows Chaib contributed $10,000 to Blagojevich. Records show Obama received $5,000 from Chaib on June 30, 2003, the same day that Ata donated $5,000.

This indictment alleges that Rezko fraudulently caused General Electric Capital Corporation (GE), to extend more than $10 million in loans to finance what Rezko portrayed as sales of two different groups of Papa John’s pizza restaurants in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas.

The indictment says Rezko and his co-schemers fraudulently obtained a $4.5 million loan from GE in March 2001 to finance the purchase of the Milwaukee pizza stores by a straw purchaser, and his company, at an inflated price, and by the submission of fraudulent documents, including false financial statements about the condition of the stores.

The government alleges that they made similar fraudulent representations to obtain another $6 million loan in October 2001, in connection with Rezko’s sale of the Chicago area pizza restaurants from Rezko Enterprises to his own company, Chicago PJ.

After closing on the loan for the Chicago stores, the loan became delinquent, and Rezko caused additional false financial information to be submitted to GE in asking for forebearance on the default, according to the indictment.

In addition to defrauding GE, prosecutors allege that Rezko defrauded investors by concealing that he was transferring the company’s assets to himself and a straw purchaser.

The indictment says that as part of the scheme to defraud GE, in February 2004, Ata signed a letter on Finance Authority letterhead that falsely made it appear that Investor 1, now known to be Dr Paul Ray, had applied for financing with the IFA in connection with Ray's acquisition of the pizza restaurants.

Dr Ray was an investor in Riverside Park and contributed $3,000 to Obama on June 30, 2003, the exact same day the contributions were made by Chaib and Ata. Ray also gave Obama $2,000 on October 2003, on top of a donation of $1,000 on December 31, 2002.

The letter stated that Ray's financing would be recommended for approval by the IFA Board on March 15, 2004, and that the IFA would guarantee 50% of the total $16 million.

During the Rezko trial, Ata testified that in February 2004, he told Rezko that IFA board members were worried over the approval of financing for the Papa John’s deal because there could be negative publicity due to Rezko’s association with the pizza businesses

But Ata said Rezko scoffed at the concerns. "He said as far as the publicity, he will get the governor's office to approve the transaction, and as far as the board,” Ata told the jury, Rezko said, “We put them there.”
Rezko eventually called Ata and dictated the language of a letter that said IFA was guaranteeing half of the purchase price. But before the deal could go through, Ata brought the chairman, David Gustman, and the board’s financial advisers to Rezko's office to tell him they did not believe the financing was good for IFA. Ata said Rezko seemed to agree, but he never gave back the letter Ata wrote on Ray’s behalf.
Papa John's searches for Rezko assets
Rezko's firms had started falling behind on payments to Papa John's in 2001, and Papa John's finally cancelled its franchise agreement with Rezko in the spring of 2004.

Rezko then transferred the pizza chains to companies owned by “personal friend(s) and long-time business associate(s)," to operate under trade names such as “Papa Tony’s" and “Pizzeria Zia,” according to a lawsuit filed in 2005 by Papa John's.

Papa John's alleges Rezko still controlled the pizza chains and the associates were merely running "front" companies under different names. The companies named in the lawsuit include AR Pizza, Chaib Investments, Newco Pizza and LayaZia. AR Pizza, Newco Pizza and LayaZia have their principal places of business at the same location as Rezko Enterprises, according to the lawsuit.

Nadhmi Auchi firm, General Mediterranean Holding, owns 50% of AR Pizza and Rezko owns 50%.

Reporters, Mike McIntire and Christopher Drew, tracked Rezko’s “financial maneuverings” during the year that Rezko and Obama were entering into the real estate deal through an examination of lawsuits in state and federal courts, documents in the Board Games cases, and land records, for a report in the March 8, 2008 New York Times.

They discovered that Rezko was fighting off lenders and investors trying to collect on defaulted loans and failed business ventures the whole time. “But he side-stepped that financial dragnet by arranging for the land to be bought in his wife’s name, making it the only property she owned by herself,” they report.

As a result, when the Obamas bought part of the lot in January 2006, “the money they paid was beyond the reach of Mr. Rezko’s creditors, including one conducting a court-ordered hunt for his assets to recover a $3.5 million debt,” the Times notes.

When buying the mansion, Obama said the lot next door had to be sold separately because, “It was already a stretch to buy the house,” in the Tribune on November 1, 2006.

This is where Rita supposedly entered the picture. She would buy the lot. However, affidavits filed in the Rezko case in November 2006, show Rita could not afford it either.

Her only income was a $37,000 a year from a part-time government job handed to her by Cook Country Board President, John Stroger, when she came up with $125,000 in cash and obtained a half a million dollar mortgage at the Mutual Bank of Harvey.

The way Obama set up the deal, the mansion and the strip of land were placed in a Land Trust with the Northern Trust Corporation. The price of the mansion was $1.65 million, and the Obamas coughed up $330,000 to obtain a $1.32 million mortgage at Northern Trust Bank.

Obama claims he got the money because he pulled off a marketing coup for book sales in July 2004, when he delivered a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention and got elected to the Senate. “Because of the attention I received during Senate campaign and the convention, my book sold well,” Obama told Chicago Sun-Times reporters during an interview on March 14, 2008

“I came into a sizeable amount of money that allowed us to move,” he said.
Cook County land records show the deed for the lot granted to Rita was recorded on June 20, 2005, with a declared value of $625,000. Records indicate Rita conveyed the land to Northern Trust Company Land Trust #10209, on January 11, 2006.

According to a web site for Marquette Bank's Trust Services, in Illinois a Land Trust provides shared ownership protection when real estate is owned by more than two people, and divorce, legal disability or the death of one can hinder the sale of the property.

With the establishment of a Land Trust, a judgment against one beneficiaries cannot create a lien on real estate held in trust and ordinary legal proceedings against one will not cloud the title. While the interest of a beneficiary can be subject to claims of creditors, the creditors must take additional steps to assert their claims against a property held in trust, according to Marquette site.

Obama claims he had no idea Rezko was flat-broke. During his March 14, 2008 interview, he told the Sun-Times, “I was shocked - as I think a lot of people in Chicago were shocked - to find out the difficult financial straits he was in because I don't think anybody suspected that at the time.”

But the investigation by the New York Times found that between November 2002 and January 2005, at least 12 lawsuits were filed against Rezko and his businesses, including one by the GE Commercial Finance Corporation.

In fact, GE obtained a $3.5 million judgment in November 2004, but put off collection in the first half of 2005 while negotiating for payments with Rezko, the Times reports.

When documents unsealed in the Rezko case revealed the $3.5 million loan made to Rezko a month before the real estate deal, Auchi’s lawyer said the loan was to “assist the financial position” of a pizzeria company called AR Pizza, according to a February 26, 2008, report by James Bone and Dominic Kennedy in the Times of London.

"The money transfer raises the question of whether funds from Nadhmi Auchi helped Mr Obama buy his mock Georgian mansion in Chicago," Bone and Kennedy wrote.

But Auchi’s attorney told the New York Times that Rezko was supposed to use the money for his pizza business, and said, “as far as my client is aware, Mr. Rezko used the loan for its intended purpose and not for any other purpose.”

However, the Times review showed Rezko did make a payment to GE a few months after he received the loan, but only for $1 million. In October 2005, GE finally obtained a court order and began seizing even the smallest assets. As the Times explains:

“The company’s lawyers filed a claim against the Rezkos’ home and began issuing subpoenas to banks where Mr. Rezko had accounts, finding very little cash.

“Court records show that G.E. was due to be in court on Jan. 5, 2006, for example, obtaining an order to seize $1,297.39 from one of Mr. Rezko’s checking accounts.”

“Less than a week later,” the Times notes, “Mrs. Rezko sold a 10-foot-wide strip of the empty lot to Mr. Obama, for $104,500, so he could widen his side yard.”

Soon Rezko’s role in the real estate deal became public, in written questions to Obama, the Sun-Times asked: “Why did you put the property in a trust?”

“I was advised that a trust holding would afford me some privacy, which was important to me as I would be commuting from Washington to Chicago, and my family would spend some part of most weeks without me,” he replied in writing.

Now Obama claims he never even knew the lot was in Rita's name. During his March 14, 2008 interview, the Tribune asked him: “When Tony sold the garden lot in his wife's name, didn't that strike you as odd?”

“You know,” he said, “I have no idea why he did it. I don't think he was intending to hide something, because if he was then, you know, using your wife's name, Rita Rezko, probably wouldn't have been the best way to do it.”
“Did he ever explain to you what he was doing?” the Tribune asked.  “No," Obama replied, "I didn't discover it until the issue of him purchasing this lot broke through, uh, through you.”

The report in the London Times asked Rita whether she used money from her husband to buy the lot and she stated: "I can't answer these questions, I'm sorry."   It also asked how long she and her husband had known Auchi, and she said: "I will not be able to answer this question."

Combine warns co-schemers not to cooperate with Feds

On his last day on the stand, Ata told the jury he finally agreed to cooperate with the Feds in April 2008, after an unnamed person delivered a threat and prosecutors once had him wear a wire to make a recording of the person who threatened him.
The prosecution’s filings say Ata lied to the FBI in 2005 when he "intentionally concealed that he paid Rezko approximately $125,000 in cash ... during 2003 and 2004 so that he could obtain a state appointment and then ensure its continuation."

Ata testified he gave Rezko the money because he wanted to keep his job at the Finance Authority. He said he delivered $25,000 to Rezko in early 2004, because Rezko said it was needed to pay contractors to stop them from filing a lien on Blagojevich’s home.

He also testified that he and Rezko once delivered $50,000 in cash to the home of Christopher Kelly and left it in the car while they went inside. Ata said Rezko told him, “there's somebody from Downstate that's coming to pick up the money." A source told the Sun-Times the money went toward paying Kelly's gambling debts.

Ata also explained that in exchange for a 25% ownership of a real estate partnership, Rezko made a problem with a state lease disappear. After Rezko became a silent partner, he said, the problem went away.
When Rezko’s attorney pressed for details about how that worked, Ata said he learned Rezko had gone to Michael Rumman to get the matter resolved, who Blagojevich appointed to lead the Department of Central Management Services.

Assistant US Attorney Hamilton asked Ata whether he ever sought to be repaid and he said he was an investor in Rezko projects and "I figured at some point in time we'd settle."

Ata told the jury he used to drop by Rezko’s office after he was appointed and would see other top officials waiting to meet with Rezko. In order to keep their jobs, he said, people appointed had to follow orders and become a team player.

For instance, Ata said, he often saw Kelly King Dibble at Rezko’s office, a former Rezmar employee, who became director of the Illinois Housing Authority. But when Dibble balked at hiring a Rezko relative, Ata said, Rezko passed a message to Dibble "congratulating her on her new assignment," and the new assignment was unemployment.
"It emphasized that you need to be a team player and follow the rules if you're going to be a part of the administration," Ata told the jury on May 1, 2008.

Kelly Dibble donated $250 to Obama on June 30, 2003, $250 on January 23, 2004, and $250 on April 25, 2007, according to a summary of contributions by Rezko Watch.
Dibble is now an attorney with the Northern Trust Company, Obama’s Land Trust holder. On September 30, 2007, Dribble donated $1,000 to Obama presidential campaign.

Ata told prosecutors he lied to the FBI in December 2005, because he was encouraged to be a "team player" by people acting on Rezko’s behalf and when he received a grand jury subpoena in late 2005, people contacted him in an effort to stop him from cooperating.

Prosecutors identified one of those people as Orlando Jones, the godson and former chief of staff to the deceased former Cook County Board President, John Stroger. Jones was a former vice president of Rezmar and an investor in Riverside Park.

Prosecutors say Jones wanted Ata to lean on another Rezko business associate to get him to stop cooperating as well. Ata told prosecutors that Jones reassured him that Rezko was working to kill the Board Games investigation by getting the Bush administration to fire Fitzgerald. "Don't worry, the plan is still in place," Jones told Ata.

Jones committed suicide in September 2007, after news of a pending indictment in a pay-to-play scheme reaching all the way to Las Vegas, was splashed all over the media. “The discovery of Jones' body came just two days after FBI agents approached Jones,” FBI spokesman Frank Bochte told the Sun-Times. Jones "cordially declined" to speak with Chicago agents, he said.

A recent state audit of the Illinois State Board of Investment had also shown that Jones collected more than $471,000 in fees from William Blair, to promote the investment firm before the Board, according to a report by Rick Pearson in the May 25, 2007 Tribune.

This Board is the oversight panel for pension systems for lawmakers, judges and state workers. The Board invested $280 million with William Blair in 2004 and when Blair got more money, so did Jones. His referral fees would net him about $224,000 in 2007, “his biggest payday yet,” Rick Pearson estimated in the Tribune.

According to the Sun-Times, Jones had been interviewed by federal authorities a while before his death about the pension fund deals approved by the Board of Investments.

Blagojevich also appointed Allison Davis, Rezko’s former slumlord partner and Obama’s former boss at the Davis, Minor & Banhill law firm, to serve on the Board of Investment.
Davis is president of the Davis Group. On January 29, 2003, the group donated $2,000 to Obama and on June 30, 2003, it made a contribution of $6,000. Obama also received donations from the group of $2,000 on July 7, 2004, $2,000 on January 29, 2007, and $2,300 on June 30, 2007, according to a tally by Rezko Watch.

Prosecutors allege that another member of this Board, Joe Carriatore made a deal with Rezko where his brother Phil Cacciatore, would get a seat on the Board for a $50,000 contribution to the “Friends of Blagojevich,” fund. Joseph Carriatore was an original investor with Rezko in Riverside Park. He donated $1,000 to Obama on June 30, 2003.

Velma Butler was recommended for this Board, but did not get the job. She gave Obama $1,000 on June 30, 2003, and donated $25,000 to Blagojevich three weeks later on July 25, 2003. Butler was also an investor in Riverside Park.

Following Jones’ suicide, County Commissioner Peraica told CBS channel 2 news: “Some of these matters Jones was involved in that are currently being investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are reaching to the highest level of county government.”

The pay-to-play scheme in Las Vegas involved a company called Crystal Communications, lead by Martello Pollock. On June 30, 2003, Pollock donated $1,000 to Obama.

In addition to pressure from Jones, Ata says that after he met with Federal agents the first time, he got a voice-mail from Rumman saying Rumman was traveling with "our friend," meaning Rezko, asking Ata to delay the meeting with investigators.

Rumman left his $120,900 a year position in April 2005, after "Auditor General William Holland accused CMS of wasting taxpayer money, skirting state purchasing laws and failing to document hundreds of millions of dollars in alleged savings the agency attributed to its hiring of high-priced consultants," according to the March 11, 2007 Sun-Times.

The next month, Rumman was called to testify before a Government Administration Committee and told the panel: “I was recommended to the governor by Mr. Tony Rezko,” the Sun-Times reported.

Rumman also said he was partners with Rezko in Riverside Park. “Rezko seems to have a hand in everything Rod Blagojevich does with a lot of hires, apparently the contracts, and he is part of the kitchen Cabinet -- and there is absolutely no oversight,” said Rep Jack Franks, chairman of the panel that heard Rumman's testimony.
Franks did not know the half of it. Following Rumman through the maze of Operation Board Games provides a map to the Combine’s corruption in Iraq with contracts signed by Aiham Alsammarae, the convicted minister of electricity who escaped from a jail in Bagdad and is now living in Chicago. This is the subplot currently under investigation in Congress.
Curtain Time For Barack Obama:
Final Chapter

By Evelyn Pringle
22 May, 2008

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

The first case of many to go to trial resulting from the Operation Board Game investigation is being referred to as the "biggest political corruption trial" since former Illinois Governor George Ryan's trial two years ago, in the Chicago media.

In this case, the Syrian-born immigrant, Tony Rezko, is facing 24 total counts of wire and mail fraud, aiding and abetting a solicitation of bribery, money laundering and attempted extortion. Rezko supported Republican George Ryan in his campaign for Governor.

The former Governor began serving a 6-year-plus prison sentence in November 2007, for charges that included racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax fraud. On April 17, 2006, US attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, told the New York Times the verdict was gratifying but the widespread corruption was "disturbing."

"Mr. Ryan steered contracts worth millions of dollars to friends and took payments and vacations in return," Fitzgerald said. "When he was a sitting governor, he lied to the FBI about this conduct and then he went out and did it again."

In 2002, Rezko backed Rod Blagojevich for Governor. Back on January 12, 2005, the Chicago Tribune reported that Blagojevich had collected more than $36.4 million in donations in four years. By comparison, it took former Governor Ryan, "once considered a powerful fundraiser, 30 years in public life to raise $40 million," the report said.

Until Ryan left, Republicans held the governor's office for nearly 30 years. Democrat Blagojevich took office in January 2003, and between then and when the same US attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, intervened on May 20, 2004, a plan was put in place to bilk roughly $8 million from persons and firms seeking to do business with the state of Illinois.

As discussed previously in this series, Governor Blagojevich was supposed to be the presidential candidate in 2008, not Obama.

In her opening statement in the Rezko trial on March 6, 2008, Assistant US attorney, Carrie Hamilton, pointed out that thousands of teachers and hospital patients across the state could have been harmed by the rigging of decisions of state boards that invested teacher pension funds and approved hospital expansion projects.

The trial ended May 13, 2008 and the jury is deliberating. Assistant US Attorney, Reid Schar, delivered the closing argument for the government. Attorney, Joseph Duffy, argued on behalf of Rezko, and Assistant US Attorney Christopher Niewoehner delivered the rebuttal.

The leader of the Board Game investigation, Fitzgerald, sat in court in the front row listening as Schar recounted testimony from witness, Ali Ata, who said Rezko told him, "Do not cooperate with the government, don't worry, the top federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, will be replaced."

Ata entered a guilty plea in another Rezko fraud case a week before the trial was set to end and agreed to testify as part of a plea agreement. During his testimony, Ata told the jury he spoke with Rezko as late as 2006, and Rezko told him "the plan will turn out just fine once the new U.S. Attorney gets into office."

"This is a crime that involves the highest levels of power in Illinois," Assistant US attorney, Niewoehner told the jury in closing arguments.
This was a crime that had an impact on where hospitals would be built and where billions in retirement money for the state's teachers would be placed, the prosecutor said.

This case "is about the defendant's, Tony Rezko's, corrupt use of his power and influence to benefit himself and his friends over the people of Illinois," Assistant US attorney, Schar told the jury.
Rezko was an insider who schemed to corrupt public officials for personal gain, he said. Throughout the trial, prosecutors referred to public "officials," as plural.

Schar said Rezko's ability to raise funds for Blagojevich bought him "access and clout" which he used to launch his scheme. Rezko was just one player, albeit an important one, in a network of corruption deeply rooted in Springfield and Chicago, according to Schar.

"He became part of a corrupt ring of individuals — a corrupt scheme that existed in the State of Illinois," Schar said. "He joined the corrupt scheme, he acted in furtherance of it and he did it for money."

There was no mystery about how Rezko gained control over the Teacher's Retirement System board and the Health Facilities Planning Board to pressure companies and individuals hoping to get state business for kickbacks, Schar told the jury.

"The answer to that question is access and clout and it stems from Rezko's ability to raise a lot of money," Schar said. "He is one of the top fundraisers for Gov. Rod Blagojevich," he noted.

Rezko gained power over the Planning Board by stacking it with members whose vote he could control, Schar said. The chairman was reappointed after delivering a $1,000 contribution to Rezko for Blagojevich and two others contributed $25,000 before getting appointed.

Rezko could not set up the schemes

Tony Rezko is a private citizen. Therefore, the evidence presented in the trial focused on his influence over officials in getting members appointed to the Boards. Prosecutors did not discuss how the legislation got passed that enabled the Planning Board to be set up in a way that allowed for the appointment of members to rig the votes to begin with.

That part of the scheme will likely be detailed in future indictments, probably starting with Blagojevich. Blagojevich signed the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Act with an effective date of June 27, 2003. However, before he could sign the act, a bill had to be passed by the Illinois House and Senate. As discussed fully in Curtain Time Part II, Obama was the inside guy in the senate who pushed through the legislation that resulted in the Act.

Obama was appointed chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The minute the bill was introduced, it was referred to his committee for review. The sponsors of the bill also served on this committee with Obama. Within a month, Chairman Obama sent word to the full senate that the legislation should be passed.

On May 31, 2003, Senate Bill 1332 passed and specified that the “Board shall be appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate." The legislation reduced the number of members from 15 to 9, paving the way for the appointment of a five-bloc majority to rig the votes.

The corrupt members appointed included three doctors who contributed to Obama. Michel Malek gave Obama $10,000 on June 30, 2003 and donated $25,000 to Blagojevich on July 25, 2003. Malek also gave Obama another $500 in September 2003.

Fortunee Massuda donated $25,000 to Blagojevich on July 25, 2003, and gave a total of $2,000 to Obama on different dates. After he was appointed, Dr Imad Almanaseer contributed a total of $3,000 to Obama. Almanaseer did not give money to Blagojevich.

When the first pay-to-play scheme was put in play, and the application for approval of a new hospital was submitted, the Department of Human Services, along with four other Illinois agencies, sent recommendations that the project should be approved even though experts said the hospital was not needed.

During the trial, Rezko’s attorney presented an email exchange to the jury that hinted at Obama's role in setting up the scheme. The exchange showed that Obama and seven other top Illinois politicians consulted on the legislation passed in 2003 and were involved in recommending the members for the board.

Matthew Pickering wrote the memo to Blagojevich’s general counsel, Susan Lichtenstein, on behalf of David Wilhelm, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who headed Blagojevich's 2002 campaign for governor.

Pickering said he and Wilhelm had “worked closely” over six months with state legislators. The memo recommended the appointees listed above and stated, “our attached recommendations reflect that involvement” with the political leaders.

The persons appointed to rig the votes, including those who contributed to Blagojevich and Obama, are cooperating in exchange for immunity or lighter prison sentences.

Feds shut down pay-to-play schemes

Only two pay-to-play schemes succeeded before the Feds swooped in and shut them all down. Blagojevich did not receive the $1.5 million from the Planning Board deal because the hospital was never built.

But Obama received $20,000 from the first kickback paid in the pension fund scheme and the straw donors used to funnel the $10,000 payments, Elie Maloof and Joseph Aramanda, also made $1,000 contributions to Obama's failed run for Congress in 2000.

In addition, Aramanda gave $500 to Obama's senate campaign on June 30, 2003. In the summer of 2005, Aramanda's son landed an intern position in Obama's Washington office.

Obama also received contributions for his senate campaign from the two persons appointed to rig the vote on the pension fund board. On June 30, 2003, Jack Carriglio contributed $1,000, and the other appointee, Anthony Abboud, donated $500 on June 30, 2003, $250 on March 5, 2004, and $1,000 on June 25, 2004.

The person chosen to funnel the kickback in a future scheme, Michael Winter, donated $3,000 to Obama on June 30, 2003.

All these people are also cooperating in exchange for immunity or lesser prison sentences but prosecutors pointed out during closing arguments that people who entered into agreements with the government are required to tell the truth or all deals are off.

Obama's political Godfather
During the Rezko trial the jury saw an exhibit that credited Rezko with raising $1.44 million for Blagojevich.
In his closing argument, Rezko's attorney, Joe Duffy, told the jury: "The evidence shows Rezko spent more time in 2003-2004 fundraising for St Jude's Children's Hospital, George W Bush and Barack Obama, then he did for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich."

During his opening statement in the trial, Duffy also pointed out that Rezko had raised money for many politicians and specifically named Obama.

The fact is, in addition to being his real estate fairy for the $2 million mansion, Rezko is Obama's political Godfather. His career in politics was launched on July 31, 1995, with contributions of $2,000 from Rezko for the Illinois senate campaign. Obama only raised about $100,000 for that race, with roughly $15,000 coming from Rezko.

After Rezko was indicted in October 2006, Obama claimed Rezko only raised $50,000 or $60,000 over his political career. This is the story he gave in the media for more than a year. But the total amount revealed during interviews with the Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune on March 14, 2008, added up to a quarter million.

Several of the people who led Obama's corrupt finance committee for the US senate race with Rezko, and collected all the contributions from the people involved in the pay-to-play schemes, are now running the show for his presidential campaign.

For reasons discussed in Parts I through V of Curtain Time, Obama's downfall will be what he claims was a "boneheaded" mistake in entering into real estate deal with Rezko in June 2005, less than a month after Rezko received a $3.5 million loan from the Iraqi-born billionaire, Nadhmi Auchi, who ended up with Riverside Park, a $2.5 billion 62-acre development project in Chicago.

However, judging from the indictments in Board Games unsealed so far, Obama's legal culpability at this point anyways, stems from his involvement in setting up and receiving money from the pay-to-play schemes.

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