Skip to comments.My life as an FBI mole (Real estate broker convicted of fraud becomes a mole for feds to nail Rezko)
Posted on 02/10/2008 5:02:19 PM PST by Libloather
My life as an FBI mole
FBI PROBE | Real estate broker convicted of fraud becomes a mole for feds to nail Rezko
February 10, 2008
BY DAVID ROEDER Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org
For the first time, the FBI "mole" who's expected to be a key prosecution witness against indicted developer and political fund-raiser Tony Rezko is talking.
In an exclusive interview with the Sun-Times, John Thomas said his life became frantic as he amassed hundreds of hours of recorded conversations for federal investigators while trying to maintain the real estate business he built on pluck and hustle.
A fly on the wall
"Now," Thomas said, "all I want is a little bit of peace."
Thomas wouldn't discuss details of his work for the FBI.
But sources said that, for more than two years when he was giving information to agents, Thomas provided a fly-on-the-wall look inside Rezko's real estate operations and his desperate attempts to keep his projects afloat.
Sources said Thomas also logged frequent visits to Rezko from Gov. Blagojevich and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Blagojevich and Obama were among the many politicians for whom Rezko raised campaign cash. Neither has been charged with any wrongdoing.
Thomas had good reason to help. He hopes to get probation for his own felony fraud conviction in a New York case. And he said he wants to redeem himself in the eyes of business associates and his family.
Sources said Thomas helped investigators build a record of repeat visits to the old offices of Rezko and former business partner Daniel Mahru's Rezmar Corp., at 853 N. Elston, by Blagojevich and Obama during 2004 and 2005.
In one case, sources said, Thomas told authorities he saw a Rezmar employee pass an envelope with a visible wad of bills to an unidentified Blagojevich aide.
Both politicians relied on Rezko for fund-raising connections. Obama was in the thick of his successful run for the U.S. Senate in 2004. Now in the glare of a presidential campaign, Obama has donated to charity $157,835 from contributions to his Senate campaign that he has linked to Rezko.
In a corruption case set for trial next month, Rezko is accused of seeking campaign contributions for Blagojevich and kickbacks from companies seeking state pension business.
At 45, Thomas is a curious figure at the heart of a scandal that has reached into presidential politics.
He is prominent in commercial real estate circles in Chicago, even after pleading guilty in 2004 to felony fraud in New York.
Sources said the government had him wear a hidden wire to record conversations with a Chicago alderman -- but that he did not record Blagojevich or Obama.
Thomas said his work on the Rezko case is "essentially done."
He spoke of having turned government informer to reduce the penalties for his crimes and help rebuild his life and career.
"I was always a very talented real estate person," Thomas said. "But, when I became part of a difficult situation, I made the wrong decisions."
According to an FBI affidavit, those "wrong decisions" included Thomas' drawing more than $350,000 from his customers' credit cards while he was running a billboard leasing business in Manhattan in the late 1990s. He also charged more than $140,000 to an American Express business account he obtained using his father's Social Security number.
Afterward, Thomas, born Bernard Barton Jr., legally changed his name.
Goal was to cut prison term
Discussing what happened in New York, Thomas said he was trying to meet his payroll at a time the company had grown too fast.
According to sources, that was where Thomas first made contact with the FBI and the Justice Department in a move to reduce the likely 15- to 21-month prison term he'd get for fraud.
At the time, in the late 1990s, organized-crime families in New York were trying to muscle into the billboard business. Sources said Thomas helped federal prosecutors.
Relocating to Chicago in 2000, he built a real estate brokerage business. He did it with aggressive cold-calling, managing to connect sellers with buyers and positioning himself as an investor in several downtown deals. Also as part of his business, he secured financing for a commission.
Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 19 on the New York charges. But his sentencing is likely to be delayed, perhaps for a year, while the Justice Department has him testify in the second of two trials Rezko faces -- that one involving allegations of business fraud. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn McNiven, a prosecutor on both the Thomas and Rezko cases, declined to comment.
Thomas' real estate activities have given him many contacts in a business that runs on them. But some of his more ambitious development deals have failed amid a flurry of lawsuits. In one case, Thomas is suing a former partner, accusing him of stealing money from renovations for an office building they owned at 318 W. Adams, in the shadow of Sears Tower. A planned conversion to office condominiums at his building has been scrapped.
And Thomas is trading lawsuits with partners in a failed purchase of the 105 W. Adams building. A venture he formed with Mahru to buy a Miami building ended in bankruptcy.
'I'm always working'
Still, Thomas said his business prospects are strong now that he has a startup company -- Red Rock Capital Realty -- that specializes in real estate consulting.
People he has done business with said he doesn't hide his background. Some joke that Thomas even introduces himself as a convicted felon.
"All these brokers, they come in at 10 and leave at 5," Thomas said. "I come in at 7 and leave at 7 at night. I'm always working."
Chicago, he said, "is a wonderful place to do this kind of business. It is the most forgiving."
Thomas said he has repaid his father and hopes to make amends for the sake of his wife and their young child.
He wants, he said, to change. That includes gastric-bypass surgery he had 1½ years ago. Since then, he has lost more than 130 pounds from a frame that once tipped the scales at 365.
On the back of his business card, Thomas expresses his thoughts on his situation.
In eight languages, the card reads: "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."
Some key dates and events in the life of FBI mole John Thomas:
Late 1990s Ran a Manhattan company that leased billboard space. Stole several hundred thousand dollars from clients credit cards. Helps federal authorities in probe of mob influence in billboards.
2000 Changes name from Bernard Barton Jr. and relocates to Chicago, where he starts a brokerage, Carnegie Realty Partners LLC, and a billboard company.
2003 Signs on to represent developer Jeffrey Grossman in a condominium deal at 60 W. Erie. Within days, Grossman is arrested for bank fraud, and Thomas agrees to help the feds. Grossman and Donald Grauer later plead guilty.
2004 Thomas pleads guilty in New York fraud, gets the case transferred to Chicago. Yet to be sentenced, Thomas begins cooperating with feds probe of developer and political fund-raiser Tony Rezko, with a focus on Rezkos financing deals on 62 acres at Roosevelt and Clark and vacant land at the southwest corner of Chicago and Hudson.
2005 Still cooperating with prosecutors, Thomas builds business portfolio and attempts several downtown development deals.
2007 Hes publicly identified as a government mole in the Rezko case.
I hope he has a good security system and a bullet proof vest.
I don’t know why they call him an mole. Sounds like he’s just an informant, not an undercover FBI agent.
What have we come to ? First, this guy scams people who trust him and steals their money. Then, to “win back his good name” he becomes the most loathsome of all creatures (at least that’s how it was before teacher told Johnny to come to her with all disputes), a stool pidgeon.
This needs to be bookmarked. It is THAT interesting. Info relating to Obama has been scrubbed, as usual with Obama.
This is juicy!
The donation is significant, for some believe Barack Obama may be one of the unnamed Illinois government officials mentioned in the following ABC News report on the FBI affidavit filed in US Attorney Fitzgeralds case against Rezko before Obamas political godfather was arrested on Monday:
According to an FBI affidavit filed in the case, Rezko sought to get a visa for Auchi to visit the United States by contacting certain Illinois government officials.
Rezko sought the visa on behalf of his friend in 2004, and Rezko helped Obama finance the real estate transaction involving his Kenwood mansion in 2005.
We also learn today that Auchis company has deleted information on two websites regarding Auchis visit to Illinois in 2004 upon hearing that rumors of a meeting between Auchi and Obama are circulating in the US.
An Iraq power plant is even involved. The Feds are definitely investigating this.
This title will be available next month as the “pick of the Month” from the Hillary Clinton Book Club. Happy reading.
People here on FR who keep calling Obama "naive" are truly underinformed. There is dirt here that people like this Thomas guy have told the Feds that has yet to come out. Lucky the SunTimes has gotten word of some it and kept the story out there in recent weeks.
Uh Oh......Lookout Obama.....Maggie Williams HUSBAND is RON NOBLE of FBI WACO fame and FOB and FOH (now heading INTERPOL)......wonder if Thomas is a friend of RON NOBLE????? Maybe THIS is how they will get Obama defeated!!
More recently, according to the FBI, Rezko had contacted "certain Illinois government officials" to help Auchi get a visa to the United States. Although the senator has stated that he did not work in any way to help Auchi receive a visa, news accounts raised questions of whether Rezko may at one time have introduced Obama to Auchi.
"[W]hen he was running for the Senate, Mr. Obama stopped by to shake hands while Mr. Rezko, an immigrant from Syria, was entertaining Middle Eastern bankers considering an investment in one of his projects," the New York Times reported in June 2007.
But Obama's campaign says that the senator never met with Auchi.
"He has no recollection of ever meeting him," wrote campaign spokesman Bill Burton in an e-mail to RAW STORY.
I don't think life handed him lemons. He tried to hand other people lemons and got what he deserved.
...drawing more than $350,000 from his customers' credit cards ...charged more than $140,000 to an American Express business account he obtained using his father's Social Security number.
The donation is significant, for some believe Barack Obama may be one of the unnamed Illinois government officials ...
very interesting, thanks for the ping.
The clout of Rezko and his associates reflects the growing political presence of Arab Americans as a group. Ray Hanania, author of Arabs of Chicagoland, estimates there are 250,000 people of Arab descent in northeastern Illinois. Hanania describes Rezko as “very personable and generous” and remembers that he was “a major donor” to the Arab American Democratic Club, which Hanania helped found in 1994. The club staged a major fundraiser in Bridgeview in September 2006 for Blagojevich’s reelection.
Informative article. Five pages of connections...
I thought that was (sort of) Bill Clinton's line.
That Blago must be some DIRT-BAG!
That Blago must be some DIRT-BAG!
“Chicago, he said, “is a wonderful place to do this kind of business. It is the most forgiving.”
Should read - Chicago, he said, “is a wonderful place to be a crook. Since everyone else here is too.”
If only something like this could bring down not just their mouthpiece in Springfield Blagojevich, but the whole Daley crime family...