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Rezko 101: The Businessman

By Kevin Robinson in News on Feb 20, 2008 3:54PM

Unlike so many political figures in Chicago, Tony Rezko didn't come from a background steeped in ward politics and clout. In fact, after he finished his degrees at IIT, did what most new immigrants to Chicago do: he got a job.

2008_2_rezko_smile.jpgIn 1984, Rezko went to work for Crucial Concessions, owned by Jabir Herbert Muhammad, former manager of boxer Muhammad Ali, and son of Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam. Crucial Concessions had a contract with the Chicago Park District to sell hot dogs on beaches and in South Side parks. It was here that Rezko met his first business partner, Danial Mahru. Mahru is the chief executive officer of Automatic Ice, which sold ice to Crucial. Together they came up with an idea that would be worth millions of dollars.

In 1989, Rezko and Mahru founded Rezmar Inc, a real estate company that rehabilitated South Side apartment buildings. Four months into Mayor Daley's first term as mayor in 1989, Rezko and Mahru got a loan from the city for $629,000 to rehab an abandoned apartment building on 46th and Drexel. According to the Sun-Times, Rezmar got more than $100 million from the city, state and federal governments to rehabilitate 30 properties in Chicago.

According to Salon, Rezmar did their rehab work cheaply, using cheap materials and low-quality appliances. During the winter of 1997, for example, one building went five weeks with no heat, one of a dozen cases where the city took Rezmar to court to force the heat back on. According to that same Sun-Times investigation, Rezmar properties were "riddled with problems -- including squalid living conditions, vacant apartments, lack of heat, squatters and drug dealers."

Rezko started his pizza business in 1998 with loans from GE Capital Corp, and his pizza empire eventually covered much of the northern Midwest, stretching from Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, through Wisconsin and Minnesota. In 2001 he became delinquent on both his franchisee payments and his loans. He is alleged to have set up a phony sale of his franchise, at inflated prices, to bogus buyers, a scheme worth about $10 million. That deal is the subject of a second indictment. (PDF)

While his fast-food legal troubles grew, Tony Rezko was busy expanding his political influence in city, state and county political circles.

Tomorrow, Tony Rezko's political connections