FBI raids Obama friend’s office
Andrea Billups (Contact)
Friday, October 3, 2008
Sen. Barack Obama hugs Will County executive Larry Walsh in a hotel in Springfield, Ill., in February 2008. (Associated Press)
The FBI on Wednesday raided the county offices of a former Illinois state senator who is a poker-playing buddy of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.
According to Chicago authorities, the FBI visited the offices in Joliet, Ill., of Will County executive Larry Walsh, a longtime friend of Mr. Obama’s, and his chief of staff Matt Ryan.
Mr. Walsh, who served in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2005, was endorsed by Mr. Obama in his county executive election bid. With the support of some of Mr. Obama’s U.S. Senate volunteers, he easily defeated incumbent Republican Joseph Mikan.
Will County auditor Steve Weber confirmed that his office had been asked by the FBI to assist in an investigation, but he did not elaborate on the specifics.
Two FBI agents out of Chicago reportedly spent more than an hour in the Will County offices on Wednesday morning.
According to sources, the Walsh investigation may be tied to lobbying firm Smith Dawson and Andrews, which was hired in 2006 for $10,000 per month to help Will County acquire federal grants.
The firm, which is registered with the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, assists clients with communications and legislative strategies that better their public policy agendas, according to its Web site. Last month, Mr. Walsh announced that Will County was the recipient of a $750,000 federal government grant that would allow law enforcement and prosecutors to fight against domestic violence.
One of the firm’s partners, James P. Smith, contributed $2,000 to help Mr. Walsh’s county executive election bid.
A corn farmer from Joliet, Mr. Walsh has supported his friend’s presidential bid, and campaigned for him in rural and farming areas of the state. They are seen hugging each other in photos before Mr. Obama’s announcement that he was running for president.
The two men became tight friends during their tenure in the Illinois Senate and bonded over games of poker. According to a report in Time magazine, Mr. Walsh lost to Mr. Obama once with what he thought was a winning hand, and then slammed down his cards and said: “Doggone it, Barack, if you were more liberal in your card-playing and more conservative in your politics, you and I would get along much better.”
Mr. Walsh denied any knowledge of any investigation.
“I don’t have a clue what you are talking about,” Mr. Walsh said in reports published Thursday in the Chicago Sun-Times.