Two months before he was convicted of federal corruption charges, political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko told his trial judge that "overzealous" prosecutors were pressuring him to tell them about any wrongdoing involving Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama or Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
But in a two-page typed letter, Rezko said he was never involved in any wrongdoing with either of the Democrats and wouldn't make up stories about them in an attempt to benefit himself.
Rezko's letter, which U.S. Dictrict Judge Amy St. Eve placed into his case file Wednesday, raised questions about whether federal prosecutors were probing allegations of wrongdoing involving Obama at a time in which the first-term Illinois senator was actively campaigning for the nomination against Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.
"There has been absolutely no suggestion at any point during the entire course of this trial that Sen. Obama was involved in any improper action or conduct involving Tony Rezko, and at no point has Sen. Obama been contacted for an interview or for any information about Tony Rezko," said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt. "Nothing in this letter indicates anything to the contrary."
Neither Obama nor Blagojevich have been charged with any wrongdoing.
Federal authorities have several active investigations involving Blagojevich and his administration over allegations of wrongdoing dealing with state hiring, contracts and campaign fundraising. Prosecutors alleged Rezko traded on his influence as a top adviser and fundraiser for the governor.
"They are pressuring me to tell them the 'wrong' things that I supposedly know about Governor Blagojevich and Senator Obama," Rezko wrote St. Eve in an April bid to be released on bail during his trial. "I have never been party to any wrongdoing that involved the Governor or the Senator," Rezko continued. "I will never fabricate lies about anyone else for selfish purposes. I will take what comes my way, but I will never hurt innocent people."
A Blagojevich spokeswoman said the administration had not seen the letter and had no immediate comment.
Rezko attorney Joseph Duffy said Wednesday the government has never intimated it is investigating anything about Obama.
"I'm not aware of any impropriety related to Rezko and Obama," Duffy said. "At no point has the government ever asked me a single question about Obama, or any wrongdoing involving Rezko and Obama."
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago declined to comment.
Rezko was convicted last week of mail and wire fraud, aiding and abetting bribery and money laundering by a jury that had heard evidence against him since March. Although Obama's name rarely came up at the trial compared to Blagojevich, Rezko's relationship with Obama has continued to be a headache for the now presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Obama purchased his South Side mansion on the same day that Rezko's wife purchased an adjoining lot. Later Obama purchased a portion of the lot from Rezko, a move he has since acknowledged as "boneheaded" because Rezko was widely known to be under investigation by law enforcement.
When Rezko was convicted by a jury last week, the Republican National Committee labeled Rezko as Obama's "money man" and noted that the Democrat bidding for the White House "has maintained a friendship with a now convicted felon."
While some speculated that unknown details of the relationship between Obama and Rezko might emerge from the trial, there was little in the Rezko evidence that mentioned the candidate.
The only new information to surface was in testimony by prosecution witness Stuart Levine who said that just weeks after Obama won the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in 2004, Obama was a guest of Rezko's at a party thrown for Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi, who Rezko was linking up with in a real estate investment.
Following the verdict, questions remained as to whether Rezko would cooperate with prosecutors in ongoing corruption cases in an effort to minimize his sentence.
The letter suggests Rezko could be a hard target for federal authorities who would like to turn him into a witness in whatever investigations he might prove valuable in, including their probes of the Blagojevich administration.
"I understand I may well lose this case," Rezko wrote. "If I do, I am prepared to serve my sentence."
Rezko told the judge he was not like some of the witnesses testifying against him, including Levine, a former member of two state boards that Rezko was convicted of corrupting.
"I am simply an honest, humble immigrant who believes in the American dream."
Rezko was indicted in October 2006 while on a trip to Syria, and he had returned to face the case. He remained free on bail until Jan. 28, after prosecutors raised an alarm with the judge that Rezko had received a $3.5 million wire transfer from Lebanon.
St. Eve jailed him until April, when family and friends put up $8.5 million to secure his release.
Rezko opened his letter by apologizing to St. Eve for not informing her of the $3.5 million, which had come to Rezko through Beirut from General Mediterranean Holding SA, a company led by Auchi. He said he took the money in because he was under "tremendous pressure" to pay his legal bills.
Prosecutors argued that the money showed Rezko might be making plans to leave the country, but the Syria native promised that was not on his mind. His children were born here and were attending school, he wrote.
"I am a die-hard Bears fan," Rezko told the judge. "The White Sox are my baseball team because they are my son's team. Until recently, I was also a season ticket-holder for the Bulls."
Rezko told the judge he was well aware of what he faced when he chose to return from Syria. And Rezko told St. Eve that his fears had come true in the form of his ruined financial picture.
"The last four years have been very difficult for me," Rezko wrote. "Since the federal government started investigating me, they have subpoenaed and interviewed hundreds of people in my life. Most of those people were my friends, associates, accountants, lenders, investors, employees and ex-employees.
"Everything I worked to build has crumbled in front of my eyes."
Rezko closed his letter by promising again that he would never leave Chicago. He told the judge his mother was buried at a cemetery in Hillside.
"I have a lot right next to her," he wrote. "That is where I am going to be buried. I am going nowhere. Chicago is where I belong."