CHICAGO – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said he had no idea longtime friend and now-indicted fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko was behind problem buildings in the South Side district that Obama once represented as a state senator.
"Should I have known these buildings were in a state of disrepair? My answer would be that it wasn't brought to my attention," Obama told newspapers Monday.
Rezko's Rezmar Corp. obtained millions in government funds to rehab apartment buildings for the needy.
Court and city documents show 30 of the apartment buildings owned and managed by Rezmar have since been subject to foreclosures, code violations and lawsuits filed by the city, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in its Monday editions. About a third of those 30 buildings were in Obama's Illinois Senate district.
Telephone calls to Rezmar went unanswered Tuesday morning.
"One of the perils of public life is that you end up being responsible for, or you're held responsible for, associations that you didn't necessarily know were a problem," Obama said.
Rezko became acquainted with Obama in 1990 and has been a key fundraiser for the rising political star. Also a key contributor to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Rezko was indicted in October on charges of shaking down investment firms that wanted to do business with the state.
Obama's relationship with Rezko came under scrutiny last year after it was reported that Rezko's wife purchased a lot next door to Obama's new house on Chicago's South Side. Obama then paid Rezko $104,500 to expand the Obama house's yard into part of the lot.
Obama has said the arrangements were ethical and proper, but acknowledged the sale was a "boneheaded" business transaction.