A former Illinois real estate specialist says FBI agents have questioned him about a Chicago property that had been bought by convicted felon Tony Rezko's wife and later sold to the couple's next-door neighbor, Sen. Barack Obama.
The real estate specialist, Kenneth J. Conner, said bank officials replaced an appraisal review he prepared on the property and FBI agents were investigating in late 2007 whether the Rezko-Obama deal was proper.
“Agents and I talked about payoff, bribe, kickback for a long time, though it took them only a short number of minutes of talking with me while looking at the appraisal to acknowledge what they already seemed to know: The Rezko lot was grossly overvalued,” Mr. Conner told The Washington Times Monday.
“Rezko paid the asking price on the same day Obama paid $300,000 less than the asking price to the same seller for his adjacent mansion,” he said. “This begs the question of payoff, bribe, kickback.”
In a wrongful-termination complaint filed last month in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Mr. Conner said his appraisal of the Rezko property, held in Rita Malki Rezko's name, was replaced with a higher one and he was fired when he questioned the document.
Mr. Conner, a former real estate and commercial credit analyst at Mutual Bank Corp. in Chicago, noted in the complaint that the bank received a grand jury subpoena in October 2006 requiring it to produce information concerning Mrs. Rezko's purchase, including the bank's files on the property.
The complaint also said the grand jury wanted information on Mrs. Rezko's checking account and loan file and whether the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) had audited the Rezko file.
It said Mutual Bank officials could be guilty of making false statements, willfully overvaluing property, bank fraud, witness retaliation, willful violation of a lawful subpoena, FDIC violations, and state banking regulations.
The FBI has declined comment on the Rezko investigation, although it is known that Rezko is cooperating with authorities as the probe continues.
Mr. Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, has denied being involved in any wrongdoing, although he considered the purchase “a mistake on my part and I regret it.” The deal took place at a time it was widely known that federal authorities were investigating Rezko and several Illinois politicians he had befriended.
According to his complaint, Mr. Conner reviewed the appraisal of the Rezko property by another firm, Adams Appraisal, which had set the value at $625,000. The complaint said he told his bosses the property had been overvalued by at least $125,000 and that a “reasonable and fair evaluation” should have been no greater than $500,000.
Mr. Conner said the removal of his appraisal “seemed understood as a crime with respect to the subpoena” of the Rezko property and the FDIC audit.
The complaint said Mr. Conner is seeking $4.2 million for compensatory damages, plus unspecified punitive damages.
Rezko was a key supporter and donor throughout Mr. Obama's political career, with the Illinois Democrat estimating that Rezko raised $250,000 for his various political campaigns, though not for his presidential bid. The two were friends who talked frequently about politics and occasionally dined together with their wives.
Rezko was convicted June 16 on felony counts of fraud, money laundering, and aiding and abetting a bribery scheme involving kickbacks from companies wanting to do business with the state. The charges did not involve Mr. Obama.
Mr. Conner is asking Mr. Obama to make his lower appraisal review of his house public, saying it is relevant to his pending complaint.