Blagojevich indicted on federal corruption charges
Friday, April 3, 2009
CHICAGO -- Ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was indicted Thursday on charges of trying to auction off President Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat along with new corruption allegations that he tried to extort a congressman.
A 19-count federal indictment alleges that Blagojevich discussed with aides the possibility of getting a Cabinet post in the new president's administration, substantial fundraising assistance or a high-paying job in exchange for the Senate seat.
Obama's deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the White House would not comment. The indictment does not allege any wrongdoing by Obama or his associates.
Prosecutors also accused Blagojevich and members of his inner circle of scheming to line their pockets with millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains, squeezing contractors, hospital owners and others seeking state business for kickbacks they planned to split after the governor left office.
"I'm saddened and hurt, but I am not surprised by the indictment. I am innocent," Blagojevich said in a statement. "I now will fight in the courts to clear my name. I would ask the good people of Illinois to wait for the trial and afford me the presumption of innocence that they would give to all their friends and neighbors."
His brother, two former aides, a former fundraiser and a lobbyist were also indicted. Blagojevich's wife, Patti, was not indicted.
The indictment alleges Blagojevich told an aide he wanted to stall a $2 million state grant to a school that was championed by a congressman until the lawmaker's brother held a political fundraiser for the governor. The congressman's identity wasn't released.
It also says Blagojevich was involved in a corrupt scheme to get a massive kickback in exchange for the refinancing of billions of dollars in state pension funds.
Convicted fixer Tony Rezko paid Blagojevich's wife, Patti, a $14,396 real estate commission "even though she had done no work" to earn it and later hired her at a salary of $12,000 a month plus another $40,000 fee, the indictment said.
And, according to the indictment, Blagojevich told an aide he didn't want executives with two financial institutions getting further state business after he concluded they were not helping his wife get a high-paying job.
Others charged were former chief of staff Alonzo Monk; another former chief of staff, John Harris; brother Robert Blagojevich; onetime chief fundraiser Christopher G. Kelly; and Springfield lobbyist-millionaire William F. Cellini.
Prosecutors said Harris has agreed to cooperate.
Blagojevich was indicted on charges of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy and attempted extortion, and making false statements. Most of those charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Blagojevich, 52, was arrested Dec. 9 on a criminal complaint and federal prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald had faced a Tuesday deadline supplant it with an indictment handed up by a federal grand jury. The Democrat's arrest led to his political downfall: The Illinois House impeached him Jan. 9. The Senate convicted him and removed him from office Jan. 29.
Blagojevich's administration has been under federal investigation for years and Kelly and Rezko already have been convicted of federal crimes and are awaiting sentencing.
Thursday's indictment said that in 2003 -- the former governor's first year in office -- Blagojevich, Monk, Kelly and Rezko agreed to direct big-money state business involved in refinancing billions of dollars in pension bonds as part of a deal with a lobbyist who promised a massive kickback in return. The lobbyist wasn't identified.
Rezko raised more than $1 million in campaign contributions for Blagojevich and also was a major Obama fundraiser.
Associated Press Writer Tammy Webber contributed to this report.