Chicago Sun-Times
Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

March 2009 Archives

Blagojevich: Feds have Blago on tape -- and on the record

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There's no question that secretly recorded phone calls of the ex-governor will be in play when an indictment comes down in upcoming days.
But what's been long forgotten is what happened in the early days of a corruption probe into the Blagojevich administration.
Federal agents sat down and interviewed a key witness: Rod Blagojevich. He was better known then as "Public Official A."
There was more than one interview (Blagojevich has said there were "two," a court filing references "multiple" interviews) but they nonetheless happened.
And one session happened with a court reporter in the room, getting everything down on the record, sources tell me.
It is a federal offense to lie to federal agents.
Among the questions in their sessions was whether Blagojevich promised access to state business in return for donations.
Blagojevich reportedly denied it, according to the filing.
Two government witnesses who testified at the trial of fund-raiser Tony Rezko last summer said under oath that the conversations took place.

Here's the filing (footnote on page 49) blago.pdf.

Group: Here's the fix for pay to play in Illinois

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Days before an indictment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected, a commission aimed at reforming "pay to play" politics called on lawmakers today to comprehensively change the way business is done in Illinois.
"Enough is enough," said former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, who heads the Illinois Reform Commission. "It is now or never."
Collins and other members of the commission, including former federal prosecutor and city inspector general David Hoffman, said the media and public needs to keep the spotlight on lawmakers to follow through on real reform.
Among the specific recommendations:
• Cap limits on contributions at $2,400 from individuals and $5,000 for political committees.
• Require year-round, "real-time" reporting of campaign contributions. Now, politicians file disclosures periodically, which could mean the public doesn't know about a big-money contribution for six months.
• Move the primary from February to June. That would shorten the election cycle, and thus curb reliance on donors to fund campaigns and allow voters to grade politicians on their performance after lawmakers have cast their votes on bills.
• Take the contracts dispersement out of political hands -- give it to an independent authority. Hoffman said the state gives out about $10 billion in contracts every year -- that's about the same amount the state collects in income taxes, he said. That lucrative pot of cash is where much of the pay to play politics comes up. Hoffman said that in most cases, department or agency heads said they were powerless to stop their political bosses from steering contracts to political donors. Hoffman said the system, as constructed: "is way too weak to stop it."

Zell's secret talks with Blagojevich

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Today, Chicago Tribune reporters detail discussions its parent company's chairman Sam Zell had with members of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his administration.

Says the Tribune report: "The records--including e-mails, telephone logs and calendars obtained under the state's Freedom of Information Act--provide new details about the urgency of Tribune Co. efforts to get a financial bailout from the state and the Cubs-crazy governor's personal contacts with the company and Cubs officials.

The documents leave much unsaid, and most of the people who could fill in the blanks would not comment."

The Sun-Times has reported that Blagojevich wanted to hit up Zell for campaign cash at the same time Zell sought state help in the Wrigley deal. Both Zell and Blagojevich told the Sun-Times there was no discussion about fund-raising. But the Sun-Times obtained internal campaign fund-raising records from late last year that targeted Zell.

Group to outline today how to stop pay to play

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A state reform committee headed by former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins
will announce its plans today to reform pay to play politics in Illinois.

The reform commission, appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn, will outline its proposals at 10 a.m. today.

Details to come.

Blagojevich: Former first lady subject of grand jury

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Sources gave the Sun-Times today a clue about the last-minute workings of a grand jury before it issues an indictment by an April 7th deadline.
As recently as last week, a grand jury probing corruption under ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich called witnesses who testified solely about Patti Blagojevich's real estate dealings.

Read today's story: Patti Blagojevich under scrutiny.

Former Rod Blagojevich spokeswoman Cheryle Jackson's name is on a fund-raising list that the Chicago Sun-Times wrote about this weekend.
But at the point when the document was produced -- the most recent version was Dec. 3 -- she was not considering making a bid for Obama's former seat, a spokesman said.
After Blagojevich's arrest and his appointment of Roland Burris, Jackson began contemplating the idea.
A notation next to her name noting a desire by the Blagojevich campaign to contact her about a $750 "bounced check." But a spokesman said that reference incorrectly reflected an effort by her to cancel payment on the check because it was drawn from an account she shared with her husband, who at that time was a state employee.
Jackson did meet Nov. 26 with Blagojevich's former chief of staff, John Harris, to discuss the Senate opening. But she was sent to the meeting by a group of ministers wanting to understand Blagojevich's thought process in selecting an Obama successor.
At no time during that meeting, the spokesman said, did Jackson indicate a personal interest in the Senate seat nor did Harris ask her if she was interested.
Jackson was not among those on the list who ultimately gave between July and December of last year.

-- Dave McKinney and Natasha Korecki

Blagojevich target list: So who gave?

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The Chicago Sun-Times revealed today in an exclusively obtained document, just who ex-governor Blagojevich wanted to hit up -- or did approach -- for money in the final months of last year. Authorities charge that he was in a race against a Jan. 1 deadline that banned him from taking contributions from those who sought state business or were appointees. Blagojevich assembled the list with his campaign fund, sources said, at a time when federal charges were looming and legal bills were mounting.

The list -- an early form of which was turned over to the FBI last October -- contains dozens of names of people who wanted something from Blagojevich or already received something -- including appointments, state business, or help keeping state business.
"The FBI has obtained a copy of that list, which identifies individuals and entities targeted for campaign contributions, as well as amounts sought from
those individuals and entities," The criminal complaint that charged Blagojevich in December indicates. It goes on to say that secret FBI files reveal other potential conflicts of interest. "A comparison of the names and entities on that list with information available from public sources and FBI investigative files reflects that numerous of the individuals and entities on that list have state contracts or have received public benefits conferred by ROD BLAGOJEVICH, such as appointments to positions in state government."

Here are matches for people or entities on the list who actually contributed between July and December of last year. Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9. Subsequent fund-raisers were canceled as well as donation checks.

Accurate Group $10,000 9-3
American Survey and Engineering $5,000 10-7
Barkel,Gilan/Dr. Virani $2,500 8-19
Bonan $5,000 11-20
Cable $15,000 10-21
Chin, Ray $500 12-3
Clifford, Bob $10,000 10-14
Conion, Kevin $2,000 10-24
Deleo, Jim $5,000 10-30
DeVry $500 11-3
Dorris, Dave $10,000 11-3
Feroz, Nathanial (in-kind) $3,151 10-16
Geocare $10,000 11-10
HNTB $5,000 8-27
JD Stokes $1,500 8-27
Kapadia, Dr. $2,500 11-13
Kelly, John $1,500 12-5
Kraft Foods Global, inc $2,500 11-13
Kulass, Julian $2,000 9-23
Lakhani, Monsoor $2,500 8-19
Leving, Jeff $5,000 10-7
McDonough, James $1,000 10-16
Nayak, Rhagu $7,500 12-6
Nadinic, Boro $2,000 10-23
Peoples energy $10,000 8-11
Stanley Consultants inc. pac $5,000 11-19
Stough Group $10,000 7-10


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The Chicago Sun-Times has obtained a copy of an internal fund-raising list kept by Friends of Blagojevich that the feds say is a key piece of evidence in their pay-to-play investigation into the ex-governor.

Blagojevich Target List

Those on the target list who gave to Blago in that time period.

Blagojevich indictment: Wait 'til next week

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It's no secret a federal grand jury is expected to return a formal indictment against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
But it won't be today.
With an April 7 deadline looming, that leaves next week -- likely Thursday -- the day the grand jury considering evidence against Blagojevich and others meets.
Prosecutors could ask for an extension -- but I'm told that won't happen.
Sources say that prosecutors are calling witnesses back for the third and fourth time tying up small, final details.
And don't necessarily expect some big news conference the day the ex-governor is indicted. Typically, the government doesn't hold a second news conference when an indictment is returned on an already charged case. They already held one in December where U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the alleged conduct would make "Lincoln roll over in his grave."
Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested Dec. 9 on charges that Blagojevich tried to sell President Obama's vacant Senate seat, on pay to play allegations and that Blagojevich sought to have Chicago Tribune editorial writers fired in return for the state helping structure a sale of Wrigley Field.
Blagojevich has maintained his innocence. Harris has been talking with prosecutors but has no formal deal.
The ex-governor's wife, Patti, and brother, Robert each figured prominently in the criminal complaint made public in December. But they were not charged.

Fitzgerald on Blagojevich: 'I was out jogging."

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At a news conference this morning about mortgage fraud, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was asked whether he listened to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich on WLS 890 AM today, Fitzgerald smiled and said no. "I was out jogging," he said, then ended the news conference.
Blagojevich filled in for Don Wade and Roma on the "Wade and Roma" show for two hours this morning.
Blagojevich is expected to be indicted on corruption charges before an April 7th grand jury deadline.

Bizarre Blago radio

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Photo by Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
Rod Blagojevich answers questions after hosting a WLS radio show this morning.

In a sometimes bizarre radio show this morning, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich castigated lawmakers in Springfield, complimented a young actor who portrays him in a comedy spoof and says he was "highjacked" from his post as the state's chief executive.
In one of the more bizarre exchanges, Blago told a young actor who portrays him in the Second City comedy "Rod Blagojevich Superstar" that he's doing a good job and that he hoped to make it out to one of his shows.
The actors then told the ex-governor all about their recent gig in Springfield, saying he must really be disliked there because they had a sell-out crowd.
Everyone -- including Blago -- laughed. Blago then blamed his lack of popularity Downstate on a Republican-controlled union that is pro-taxes.
Blagojevich otherwise seemed at ease on air, took questions and seemed to have an answer for every one of them.
He spent much of the two hours criticizing lawmakers, by name, who were so-called "double-dippers," by being on public payrolls while serving as "part-time" legislators.

Watch/listen at: Radio show

Blago to interview spoof of himself on radio

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When former Gov. Rod Blagojevich hits the airways 7 a.m. tomorrow morning, he'll have on as guests two stars of the Second City spoof "Rod Blagojevich Superstar."
That includes Joey Bland, who plays Blagojevich, and Mike Bradecich, who plays Ald. Dick Mell and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. The Second City show is a foul-mouthed portrayal of the ex-governor's legal woes and takes shots at Blagojevich as well as his wife, Patti.
Blagojevich is sitting in on the regularly scheduled "Wade and Roma" show while they're on vacation. He was a guest on the program just last week after he took a hiatus from a full-blown media blitz earlier this year.
Blagojevich's continues his on-air presence even as a federal indictment is expected to drop in a matter of days. The deadline is April 7 and prosecutors are not expected to ask for an extension.

In the meantime, I'm told that there's more media expected in Blago's future. Stay tuned.

Gillespie joining Blago legal team

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Veteran defense lawyer Terry Gillespie has joined the Blagojevich legal team, offering another banner name to the group representing the former governor.
Gillespie met with other lawyers on the ex-governor's legal team last night for several hours where he was debriefed.
Gillespie would not immediately return a call for comment but others with knowledge of the decision said he is on board.
Gillespie is the longtime law partner of Ed Genson, who quit as Blagojevich's lead counsel earlier this year amid divisions within the trial team and a disagreement over the publicity.
Gillespie is a good fit, lawyers on the case say, because he recently prepared for the Ed Vrdolyak trial and, most importantly, is up to speed on the cross examination of a key witness in both the Vrdolyak case and in Blagojevich's case -- Stuart Levine. Levine wore a wire on Vrdolyak and recorded incriminating conversations. Gillespie prepared to cross examine Levine but Vrdolyak suddenly pleaded guilty. He was just sentenced to probation. Others on the case include Sheldon Sorosky and Sam Adam Sr.

Blago to host radio show -- interview guests

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In a bizarre twist to his multitude of media appearances, former Gov. Blagojevich will host the Don Wade and Roma radio show Wednesday morning on 890 AM.
For two hours, (7-9 a.m.) listeners can tune in and hear the former governor and ask guests questions.
The big unknown now is just who will be a guest on his show. Word is that some names knocked around last week were longtime political insider Eddie Vrdolyak and recently convicted city hall official Al Sanchez.
But just who would agree to be questioned by the ex-governor who is charged with trying to sell President Obama's Senate seat is expected to be announced later today.
"He's excited about hosting," says Glenn Selig, Blagojevich's publicist. "He's ready for the challenge and promises to be a fair interviewer. He'll also be tough when he needs to be. He's a talented communicator."
Blagojevich is writing a book that's scheduled to be on shelves in October.

Blago wanted Zell money

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The Sun-Times reports today that at the same time Tribune Co. Chairman Sam Zell sought a Wrigley Field deal structured through the state, then-Gov. Blagojevich wanted to raise $25,000 from him. Zell was interviewed by the FBI in January. He's not accused of wrongdoing. But a portion of the charges against Blagojevich deal with his wanting members of the Chicago Tribune Editorial fired in exchange for approving the Wrigley Field deal. Assistance through the state's Illinois Finance Authority meant up to $150 million in tax savings to Tribune Co., according to the criminal complaint.

Ex-Blago aide heads Bloomberg campaign

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A onetime top aide to the ousted Gov. Blagojevich has landed a position running the next campaign of New York Mayor Bloomberg, the Village Voice is reporting.
Former Illinois Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk is in charge of the $80 million operation, including hand-picking top campaign advisers to the mayor, according to the report.

In December, Tusk was among 15 current or former
administration officials identified as possible witnesses by the Illinois House
impeachment panel, though he never was called to testify.

Buddy of key witness to plead guilty

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Dr. Robert Weinstein, who was the behind-the-scenes deal-maker with key government witness Stuart Levine, is scheduled to plead guilty tomorrow, according to court records.
Weinstein is a long-time friend and confidante of Levine, who testified for 15 days in the trial of onetime gubernatorial fund-raiser Tony Rezko. Levine said he used Weinstein as a conduit to hide money.
Weinstein didn't testify at Rezko's two-month trial, but he and
Levine's conversations about illicit state schemes -- covertly caught on tape -- were played to jurors in the case.
Weinstein was charged last year in a scheme that raided the Chicago Medical School and North Shore Supporting Organization, a charity, of millions of dollars.
Weinstein, who has homes in Northbrook and Delray Beach, Fla., is
accused of siphoning $6 million from NSO with Levine and diverting
money from a development project at 2020 W. Ogden, according to charges.
On Friday, prosecutors charged Weinstein in a superseding information, which usually precedes a guilty plea. His court docket indicates a guilty plea is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Levine and Weinstein were trustees of the medical school and NSO.
The medical school is now known as Rosalind Franklin University of
Medicine and Science in North Chicago.
Levine and Weinstein misused their trustee positions and pocketed
money belonging to the organizations, prosecutors charged. Levine
has pleaded guilty and has been cooperating with the government
since 2006.

Judge: Fitzgerald will stay on Blago case

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Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has failed in an attempt to have U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald thrown off his criminal case in federal court. Chief U.S. District Judge James Holderman on Friday denied Blagojevich's motion asking that Fitzgerald -- as well as every assistant U.S. Attorney in his office -- be thrown off the case. Blagojevich argued that Fitzgerald made inappropriate remarks during a news conference about the then-governor. He asked that the grand jury probe be ceased.
At the Dec. 9th news availability, Fitzgerald said Blagojevich's alleged actions would make President Lincoln roll over in his grave and called the allegations --including trying to sell President Obama's Senate seat -- a political corruption crime spree. Blagojevich also said Fitzgerald shouldn't have referenced portions of taped conversations during the news conference.
For their part, the U.S. Attorney's office said Fitzgerald used strong language to communicate to the public why a governor had just been arrested.
But Holderman entered an order Friday denying Blagojevich's argument, saying the legal precedent the defense cited "is neither factually nor legally on point." He said he'd defer the other matters to the judge who is actually assigned to the case if it is indicted.
Prosecutors have said they expect a grand jury to return an indictment by early April.

Burris ex-pal raises new questions

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John Ruff said he helped Sen. Roland Burris get his Senate seat appointment. Now, In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Ruff said he wants to publicly apologize for helping Burris. To show the degree of his involvement with the senator's camp, he produced telephone records showing dozens of calls between October and early February between himself and Lebed, Burris' longtime lobbying partner and close friend.

Also, a Downstate prosecutor investigating possible perjury charges against Burris has asked the U.S. Attorney's office to turn over any tapes it has involving Burris, the Sun-Times reports today.

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