Mr. Inside Out

Tony Rezko climbed from immigrant roots to the highest circles in Illinois. In his first interview since his indictment on corruption charges, he’s defiant—and faithful to a governor who now shuns him.

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Today, Rezko remains free on bond, though legally confined to his Wilmette home except for daily trips to his office in the Loop. He no longer owns a second home in Lake Geneva, and LaSalle Bank initiated foreclosure proceedings on the Wilmette property, but Rezko still lives there while the matter is being litigated. When Rezko was indicted, his attorney said he had a “negative cash flow” and only $5,000 in the bank. The court ordered Rezko to file a personal financial affidavit, which remains under seal. Prosecutors have alleged that Rezko is more than $50 million in debt.

Rezko says the government’s claim that he is so deep in debt is “misleading” because a developer’s cash flow is “always like a roller coaster,” and he remains invested in ventures that might take off. He no longer has interests in a proposed Iraqi power plant or other projects in the Middle East. Asked about any local business ventures, he says, “I am focused on my defense; I am spending more time with my family.” But he acknowledges that he still is a member of the limited liability corporation with an interest in 62 acres southwest of Roosevelt Road and Clark Street. In April, the Sun-Times reported that Rezmar had received more than $100 million in government and private loans over six years to rehab 30 buildings, mostly on the South and West sides, for low-income housing, only to let the apartments deteriorate. Rezko volunteered that he takes personal offense at the Sun-Times’s description of him as a slumlord: “There is nothing further from the truth than for me to be called a slumlord. There is no basis for that.”

Despite his mounting troubles, he insists he is undaunted. “You don’t see me crying in the corner for myself,” he says.

Despite his mounting troubles, he insists he is undaunted. “You don’t see me crying in the corner for myself,” he says. “All I can tell you, one good thing that came out of this, I have been spending much more time with my family than I did before.” Rezko married his wife, Rita, a native Syrian who attended McGill University in Montreal, in 1985. The couple have three children, the oldest two in college in Illinois. Rezko has a sister here and another in Montreal. He also has brought his two brothers and many other relatives to the Chicago area. When Rezko was arraigned last fall, various friends and family secured his $2-million bond with 11 pieces of property in Chicago, Libertyville, Palatine, Orland Park, Orland Hills, and Oak Lawn.

“It’s tough on the family,” Rezko says, “but I know myself. I know I’m innocent.” He draws strength, he says, from his late father. “He was a very, very generous man. He was well known in his community, well respected. Lots of people seek his advice and wisdom. I always wanted to carry maybe 10 percent of my father’s character if I could.”

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