A controversial fundraiser and adviser to Gov. Rod Blagojevich has had a business relationship with First Lady Patti Blagojevich for eight years, the governor's office acknowledged Thursday.
Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a Chicago developer who has been influential in shaping Blagojevich's administration and policies, has "worked on various projects" with Patti Blagojevich since 1997, said Cheryle Jackson, the governor's spokeswoman.The disclosure marks the first time that the governor's administration has acknowledged the governor's family has a personal financial link with a key adviser who helped shape the administration and is now tied to a variety of controversies involving allegations of cronyism.
The revelation underscores the depths of the relationship between Rezko and the governor, as well as the level of access Rezko has been given to the administration.
Rezko was one of several Blagojevich associates served with grand jury subpoenas last week in an investigation into allegations that plum government appointments were traded for campaign cash, according to several sources close to the investigation.
Patti Blagojevich is a licensed real estate broker who owns River Realty Inc. Joint tax statements filed by the Blagojeviches indicate that her real estate work has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the family's income since he served as a congressman representing a Northwest Side district.
Rezko has been linked to controversies ranging from the awarding of lucrative restaurant franchises on the Illinois tollway system to his business partners, to the selection of government appointees with whom he also has business ties. Two Rezko associates gave Blagojevich $25,000 each just days after the governor named them to a state panel that regulates hospital expansion.
The city of Chicago recently moved to revoke fast-food franchises at O'Hare International Airport controlled by Rezko after contending he used a minority front to gain access to the lucrative airport business.
After being questioned by the Tribune about the relationship between Rezko and Patti Blagojevich, the developer and the governor's office released statements similar in wording and tone.
"Mrs. Blagojevich is one of many licensed real estate brokers and appraisers that Rezmar Corp. has worked with," Rezko said in a prepared statement, referring to his development firm. "Mrs. Blagojevich has never represented Rezmar Corp. or any of its affiliates in any matter, project or negotiation related to Mr. Blagojevich's duties as a state representative, U.S. congressman or governor."
Rezko added that he has not conducted any business with the state since Blagojevich became governor. He said he has walked away from potential business opportunities at the tollway and elsewhere to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Jackson said late Thursday that Patti Blagojevich's work in real estate has nothing to do with her husband.
"Patti Blagojevich is like millions of women all across America. She's a working mom who owns her own business as she and her husband raise their two young daughters," she said. "Patti is a licensed broker and appraiser who has been in the real estate business for 15 years. Her work has nothing to do with her husband, and just because her husband happens to be governor doesn't mean she isn't entitled to earn a living."
Neither Rezko nor officials with the Blagojevich administration would say how much money Patti Blagojevich has received from Rezko or Rezmar Corp.
The couple's joint income tax returnsdo not clearly demonstrate how much money Patti Blagojevich has made with River Realty. The couple's 2003 tax return--the first year Blagojevich was governor--showed they earned $202,596. The governor's salary is $150,691. A year earlier, they reported making $239,677. At that time, Blagojevich was a congressman from Chicago earning $150,000 annually. Between 1998 and 2000, Patti Blagojevich reported earning $73,717 through real estate and sales work.
The Blagojeviches have asked for an extension to file their 2004 tax returns.
Since elected governor in 2002, Blagojevich has talked openly about his friendship with Rezko, who has been a key member of the governor's "kitchen cabinet" of advisers.
On Wednesday, Michael Rumman, the director of a key administrative agency, testified before a House committee that Rezko recommended him for his job and the two are involved in a real estate venture in the South Loop. Rumman and his agency have been under fire since the release of a critical state audit outlining widespread waste and mismanagement of more than $69 million in consulting contracts, some to politically connected firms.
In addition to Rumman, at least two former employees of Rezko also have landed top jobs with the administration, including the head of Blagojevich's Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the executive director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
First lady of Illinois linked to developer
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