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It didn't take long for the Republican Party to pounce after Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a prominent former fundraiser for Sen. Barack Obama, was convicted on June 4, 2008, on federal charges of fraud and money laundering as part of Illinois' pay-to-play politics.
The very day of the conviction, the Republican National Committee crafted a news release titled, "Obama Must Answer Questions so the American People Can Decide."
One of those questions: "Did Obama know that Tony Rezko was saving him $300,000 on the purchase of his home?"
By asking if Obama knew about it, the question presumes the claim is true: that Rezko did, in fact, save Obama $300,000 on the purchase of his home.
Now it's true that Obama paid $300,000 less than the asking price for a century-old mansion that he and his wife, Michelle, purchased from a Chicago doctor in 2005 for $1.65-million.
And on the same day the Obamas closed on their house, Rezko's wife, Rita Rezko, bought a vacant lot next door from the same seller for $625,000, the full asking price. Obama said it was his understanding that there was another offer besides the Rezkos' for the vacant lot at or near the asking price, thereby setting the market.
The Obama campaign has posted an e-mail from the seller, Frederic Wondisford, confirming that Obama's offer on the house was the best one. In the letter, the seller says he rejected two lower offers from the Obamas before the two sides finally settled at $1.65-million.
The seller also confirmed that he did not offer or give the Obamas a discount on the house price on the basis of the price offered and accepted on the adjacent vacant lot purchased by Rezko's wife.
Lastly, Wondisford confirmed that it was he who insisted the closing for the two properties be completed on the same day.
Donna Schwan, with MetroPro Realty, which listed both the house and the vacant lot, recalled that there were several offers on both the house and the lot, though she could not remember the amount of those other offers and said she has since discarded the offer sheets.
"The most important thing to the sellers was to close on the same day," Schwan said, as they did not want one of the properties to sit unsold, alone.
The sellers also required the buyers to put off the closing until June 15, after their children had gotten out of school.
The fact that the Rezkos agreed to purchase the vacant lot on that date in mid June, "could have been to their (the Obamas') advantage, absolutely," Schwan said.
"Each was contingent on the other selling," she said.
"Whoever was willing to close on that date, if they made a reasonable offer, that's who they went with," Schwan said.
One could certainly argue that the Rezkos' purchase, and their flexibility on the closing date, helped assure that the Obamas' offer was accepted. The real estate agent made clear that getting the two properties sold at the same time was a priority for the seller.
But that's still a long way from saying the Rezkos saved the Obamas $300,000. The GOP offers no proof that the price paid by the Obamas was anything other than a matter of negotiation, or that the Obamas would have had to pay $300,000 more if not for the Rezkos' purchase. In fact, the seller specifically confirmed that the Obamas' offer of $1.65-million was the best offer he received on the house. Further, the seller confirmed that he did not offer the Obamas a discount on the price of the house "on the basis of or in relation to the price offered and accepted on the lot."
Having the Rezkos as flexible buyers on the vacant lot might have helped the Obamas get the house they had been trying to buy, but there's just nothing to support the GOP claim that the Rezkos saved the Obamas $300,000. We say False.
Wall Street Journal, "Rezko Convicted: Obama, GOP Offer Divergent Takes" by Dan Slater, June 5, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times, "Obama cuts Rezko ties" by Chris Fusco and Tim Novak, Jan. 30, 2008
CBS2, "Obama And Rezko Linked In Real Estate Deals" by Derrick Blakley, Nov. 1, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times, "8 things you need to know about Obama and Rezko" by Tim Novak, Jan. 24, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times, "Obama on Rezko deal: It was a mistake" by Dave McKinney and Chris Fusco, Nov. 5, 2006
Time, "Interview with Obama: Still Confident" March 6, 2008
Chicago Tribune, "Rezko owns vacant lot next to Obama's home" by Ray Gibson and David Jackson, Nov. 1, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times, "Obama and his Rezko ties" by Tim Novak, April 23, 2007
Chicago Tribune, "Let's clarify the Obama deal with Rezko — a handy cheat sheet" by Eric Zorn, June 10, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times, "Complete transcript of the Sun-Times interview with Barack Obama" March 15, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times, "Obama would not pardon Rezko if elected president" by Dave McKinney, June 5, 2008
Interview with Donna Schwan, an agent with MetroPro Realty, June 16, 2008
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