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Complaint hits Rezko land deal

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EXCLUSIVE:

A former Illinois bank official, now claiming whistleblower status, says bank officials replaced a loan reappraisal that he prepared for a Chicago property that was purchased by the wife of now-convicted felon Tony Rezko, part of which was later sold to next-door neighbor Barack Obama.

In a complaint filed Thursday in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Kenneth J. Connor said that his reappraisal of Rita Rezko's property was replaced with a higher one and that he was fired when he questioned the document.

Mr. Connor, a real estate and commercial credit analyst at the Mutual Bank Corp. in Chicago, also 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 that the grand jury wanted information on Mrs. Rezko's checking account and loan file and that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) had audited the Rezko file - although Mr. Connor's lower reappraisal had been replaced with a higher amount.

"Connor's internal whistle-blowing activity at Mutual Bank implicates Mutual Bank and the potentially guilty officers thereof to prosecution under federal and Illinois statutes," said the complaint, filed by attorney Glenn R. Gaffney.

The complaint 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.

Mr. Gaffney, contacted at his office, declined to elaborate but confirmed that the complaint had been filed.

"It says what it says," said Mr. Gaffney of Glendale Heights, Ill.

According to the complaint, Mr. Connor reviewed the appraisal of the Rezko property by another firm, Adams Appraisal, which had set the value at $625,000. Mr. Connor's complaint said that he told his bosses in a report that 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.

Later, the complaint states, Mr. Connor observed that his lower appraisal was not in the Rezko file and that he notified his supervisors that it had been replaced. He said, according to the complaint, the new file had been reviewed by the FBI and "if the FBI were to ask me about such matters, I would tell them the truth. I never rescinded my original findings."

Critics of Mr. Obama's dealings with Rezko charge that the senator may have gotten a deal on his property purchase, noting that Mrs. Rezko paid the full asking price for her property on an adjacent lot. Both of which were sold by a single seller. Mr. Obama bought his house for $1.65 million - $300,000 below the asking price.

When the property was sold, Mr. Obama knew Rezko was under investigation on fraud charges.

The complaint said the Rezko loan was approved by Mutual Bank President and CEO Amrish Mahajan and others so that Mrs. Rezko could buy a 9,090-square-foot vacant parcel of real estate. It said that in January 2006, Mrs. Rezko and Mr. Obama, along with his wife Michelle, signed an agreement to sell a 10-foot strip of the property to the Obamas. At that point, according to the complaint, Mr. Connor's firm asked him to conduct the reappraisal.

The complaint said Mr. Connor 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 out together with their wives.

Rezko was convicted this summer on federal charges of using his clout with state government to squeeze kickbacks out of firms wanting to do business with the state. The charges did not involve Mr. Obama. Rezko is now cooperating with federal prosecutors in a continuing probe of corruption in Illinois government.

Mr. Obama consulted Rezko, a real estate developer, before buying his home in 2005.

As a state senator, Mr. Obama wrote letters endorsing government support of a Rezko housing project for senior citizens. Obama aides say he was simply supporting a project that would help residents of his district, not doing a favor for a friend.

Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this article.

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