Rezko says 'aggressive fundraising' landed him in jail

May 31, 2012 (CHICAGO)

He is serving the remainder of his 126-month sentence in a minimum-security camp about 200 miles south of Chicago.

The federal prison in downstate Pekin, Ill., has a hard fast rule: no recording devices are allowed inside the institution. So when inmate number 19050-424 was given rare permission to do a telephone interview with ABC7's Charles Thomas, the recording would take place at ABC7.

"What I was prosecuted and convicted of, I did not commit," Rezko said.

The 57-year-old, Syrian-born civil engineer-turned-businessman was the top political fundraiser and adviser to Governor Rod Blagojevich. He insists he was wrongfully convicted in 2008 for fraud, money laundering and bribery. But he did say that he and Blagojevich were guilty of other crimes – pay-to-play politics for which neither he nor the former governor were indicted.

"I've done other things related to fundraising and pay to play that I could have been indicted on," he said. "A lot of board members were appointed based on their contribution to the campaigns."

Rezko said the mistake that landed him in prison was the Blagojevich administration's overemphasis on fundraising.

"I think we had aggressive fundraising," said Rezko. "We probably raised more money than any other previous governor did, and when you are that aggressive sometimes lines get crossed."

Rezko would not take questions about President Barack Obama, whom he described as a friend to whom he donated money.

Also, Rezko's wife Rita brokered a controversial real estate transaction involving the president's South Side house. He says he rarely, if ever, hears from the any of the dozens of politicians for whom he raised money for over two decades.

"Once I was indicted I stayed away from everyone," said Rezko. "Most people would send messages through others that I'm in their prayers."

Aside from Blagojevich, Rezko would not name others who may have been involved in corrupt activities during his years as a major political fundraiser and fixer.

"It's heartbreaking and painful to look backward. So I try not to look backward," Rezko said.

Rod Blagojevich's lawyer Sheldon Sorosky said Thursday that there is no evidence the former governor knew anything about campaign donors being appointed to state boards. And Sorosky questioned whether or not such an appointment would be illegal.

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