(AFP) – Mar 3, 2008
CHICAGO (AFP) — A long-time friend and fundraiser of presidential hopeful Barack Obama went on trial Monday on charges of bribing public officials and using his political influence to demand kickbacks from businesses.
While Obama is not accused of any wrongdoing and has subsequently donated all the money raised by indicted influence-peddler Antoin "Tony" Rezko to charity, prosecutors have alleged that some of the kickbacks ended up in the Illinois senator's campaign coffers.
Obama is also under fire for entering a land deal with Rezko in 2005 when it was widely known that the real estate developer was under federal scrutiny, something Obama later called a "boneheaded" move.
The timing of the trial could not be worse for Obama, who is hoping to wrap up the Democratic nomination on Tuesday when voters go to the polls in delegate-rich Texas and Ohio.
Rival Hillary Clinton has jumped on the opportunity to criticize Obama's long involvement with Rezko and demand that he come clean about their dealings.
"If someone with a 17-year relationship with Senator Clinton was going on trial for getting kickbacks and bribing public officials, and that person had also participated in some way in a house transaction (with her) ... there would be an enormous number of questions and answers demanded upon immediately," Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn said in a conference call with reporters.
"That's exactly what's going on with Senator Obama today."
Obama, however, insists that there's nothing more to reveal.
"This is a story that has been going on for a year and a half. We have seen more than 200 articles written about it," he told ABC News.
"We have provided people with all of the information that's needed to make an assessment."
The Rezko dealings would likely dog Obama in the lead up to November's general election.
The trial in a Chicago federal court is expected to last months and local political watchers are expecting Obama's name to come up during trial along with other influential Democratic leaders in the state.
Prosecutors allege Rezko, who was once a top advisor to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, demanded illegal payments from businesses trying to win state contracts and gain regulatory approval.
They allege that many of those kickbacks ended up in the campaign coffers of Blagojevich and other politicians.
Rezko is charged with 15 counts of fraud, six counts of aiding and abetting in the solicitation of bribery, two counts of money laundering and one count of attempted extortion.
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