CHICAGO — Jailed political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, the Chicago real estate developer who helped launch Barack Obama on his political career, is whispering secrets to federal prosecutors about corruption in Illinois and the political fallout could be explosive.
Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose administration faces multiple federal investigations over how it handed out jobs and money with advice from Rezko, is considered the most vulnerable.
Rezko also was friendly with Obama — offering him a job when he finished law school, funding his earliest political campaigns and purchasing a lot next to his house. But based on the known facts, charges so far and testimony at Rezko's trial, there is no indication there will be a so-called October surprise that could hurt the Democratic presidential nominee — even though Rezko says prosecutors are pressing him for dirt about Obama.
"I think this strikes fear into the Blagojevich administration and the Statehouse Democrats but not into the Obama campaign," says state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Westmont, a John McCain delegate to the GOP convention but an old friend of Obama.
Rezko, 53, a real estate developer, was convicted in June of scheming to use his clout with the Blagojevich administration to squeeze $7-million in kickbacks out of a contractor and seven money management firms seeking to do business with the state.
Within two months, Rezko was seen in U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office, along with his attorneys.
There has been no official confirmation that Rezko is talking, but his sentencing has been postponed indefinitely and both sides say they are going to "engage in discussions that could affect their sentencing postures."
"They never would have delayed the sentencing if he weren't talking — it's proof positive," said Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association of Chicago.
Obama has sent to charity $159,000 that Rezko raised for his campaigns for the state legislature, the House and the Senate. Rezko raised nothing for Obama's White House run.