Time For Barack Obama
- Part II
By Evelyn Pringle
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 HireIraqis.com 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.
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.
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.
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 unravels
When 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.”
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."
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.
If the Combine's plot with the Bush administration to shut down Operation Board Games had worked, Obama would be home free. But it failed and the Republicans are just waiting to air the roadmap of dirt pieced together from Fitzgerald's investigation if Obama is nominated. McCain is in the clear because there is no sign of his involvement anywhere.
(Evelyn Pringle is a columnist for OpEd News and an investigative journalist focused on exposing corruption in government and corporate America)