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

April 2009 Archives

Blago lawyers want campaign fund money

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Lawyers for former Gov. Blagojevich and his brother are asking a federal judge to lift a restraining order that's been put on a $2.3 million campaign fund to help pay for legal fees.
Attorney for Robert Blagojevich, Michael Ettinger, said of the $2.3 million in the fund now: "not a dollar represents proceeds of any illegal activity as alleged in the indictment," according to a court filing.
Ettinger has asked that a portion of the funds be released to contribute to his client's legal fees. Robert Blagojevich chaired the fund as of August of last year. Blagojevich's lawyers are expected to file something similar before day's end.
Prosecutors indicated in a filing that $100,000 has been released to ex-Gov. Blagojevich's lawyer Sheldon Sorosky, while Ettinger has gotten $50,000 so far.
The government opposes releasing money from the fund, saying in a government filing today they have to protect their rights to seize the money if there's a conviction.
"FOB was established on behalf of Rod Blagojevich to support his campaign efforts so that he could maintain and influence a racketeering enterprise designed to personally
enrich Rod Blagojevich and his family, and, as part of the enterprise, his interest
in the FOB funds," prosecutors argue. The government proposes letting defense lawyers be paid through taxpayer money but then allow the campaign fund to repay the costs. That would force Blagojevich's attorneys to be paid at public defender rates, which is about $115 or so an hour. In the alternative, they proposed that the money be held in a court-supervised escrow fund.
Judge James Zagel, who oversees the case, has indicated that he will likely release the fund to defense lawyers to pay for legal fees. A formal hearing is set for May 1. Prosecutors oppose the move.

Stephen Baldwin says: 'Leggo my Blago'

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Actor Steve Baldwin says he's willing to travel to Chicago to convince a federal judge that Blagojevich should be able to leave the country, fly to Costa Rica, and film a reality TV show.
Baldwin says he's going to start wearing a handmade button on his lapel proclaiming: "Leggo my Blago."

Have we jumped the shark yet?


Here's press release from PR firm:

Stephen Baldwin Offers to Appear Before Judge to Get Rod Blagojevich in Costa Rica

Actor says he's willing to travel to Chicago if it will help the former governor get permission to leave the country.
thepublicityagency.com - April 24, 2009

(PRNewsChannel) / Los Angeles, Calif. / One of the stars of the upcoming NBC reality show 'Help, I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!,' wants to help get former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in Costa Rica to participate on the show.

Stephen Baldwin says he's willing to go before Judge James Zagel to get permission for Blagojevich to join him in Costa Rica on the show.

"If there's an opportunity to go before the judge and it would help the situation I would be more than happy to go," Baldwin told the former governor who is in L.A. to help promote the reality program airing on NBC in June.

Baldwin said he believes people are innoncent until proven guilty so everyone should still be under the assumption that "he's innocent."

The judge ruled earlier this week that he would not alter the conditions of Blagojevich's bond to allow travel to Costa Rica for the reality show.

"I would love for Blagojevich to be on the show," Baldwin says. "He would add intensity and spice."

Baldwin, also in L.A. to help promote the new show, says he will start wearing a handmade button on his lapel during interviews that proclaims 'Leggo My Blago.'

With the role of the former governor in the new NBC reality show still unclear, Blagojevich's publicist welcomed the support of the Hollywood actor.

"I think it's great that a Hollywood star like Stephen Baldwin is behind the governor," says Glenn Selig, founder of the PR firm, The Publicity Agency (www.thepublicityagency.com), which represents Blagojevich. "Rod really appreciates his support."

Blagojevich is in Los Angeles with Baldwin and other stars to help promote the upcoming reality show, which he hopes to still have a role in at some point.


The secrets of Blago's hair -- so famous, some wondered if it could face indictment separate from the governor -- are finally revealed.
He's not a conditioner guy.
And no blow dryer. Just some shampoo -- and lots and lots of combing.
A TMZ reporter pounced on the former governor in the Los Angeles airport today and posed some of these lofty questions. Blagojevich is in Los Angeles to promote "Get Me Out of Here, I'm a Celebrity," a reality TV show a judge won't let him join.
The first question Blago faced as he walked out of the baggage claim area: "What kind of hair care products do you use?"
Blagojevich, bag slung over his back, explained: "I came of age in the disco era, when you know, the brush was like an extension of your arm."
Is he a conditioner kind of guy, the reporter insisted?
Blago smiled. "Shampoo." Then Blagojevich pulled back: "Are you making fun of me?"
"Nah, nah."
Asked how long it takes him to get ready in the morning, Blagojevich said:
"Man, I just towel dry and I'm on my way.
Last question:
"What would you pay for a lifetime supply of hairspray?"
Blago finally stopped playing along. "I have a lot of priorities in life, that's actually not one of them."
Watch the video: Rod hair

Scoop: NBC asked Patti to go to Costa Rica

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Which reality is wackier?

Seeing Rod Blagojevich dropped into the Costa Rican jungle to film a reality TV show -- or, after a judge nixed the idea, seeing his wife do it?

NBC executives have asked Patti Blagojevich to act in her husband's stead and become a contestant on the reality show "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!"

But a defense lawyer, who did not want to be named, said the couple will heed their attorneys' warnings and not allow Patti to do the show.

The attorney said the two were told: "They both should follow Judge [James] Zagel's sage advice regarding Costa Rica."

Though the former first lady has surfaced in a federal indictment against her husband, she has not been charged. So there's nothing that bars her from traveling outside the country, unlike her husband. But those close to the couple say she wasn't too excited about the possibility of eating insects.

The Blagojeviches considered the idea to bring income into the family. Both Rod and Patti Blagojevich were fired from their jobs in January. The show would have paid a maximum of $123,000 for a month's work.

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcchicago.com/video.

Blago finds he can stay in country and make money

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Ex-Gov. Blagojevich might not be a contestant on a celebrity reality show for NBC, but nothing bars him from filming commercials for it.

Blagojevich is traveling to Los Angeles to help promote the upcoming reality show that he won't star in after a judge told him he needs to instead delve into his criminal case.

This is what Blago's PR people say today:

Rod Blagojevich to Promote 'I'm a Celebrity' Reality Show for NBC

Blagojevich travels to L.A. to help promote the program he hopes to still be a part of.
thepublicityagency.com - April 23, 2009

(PRNewsChannel) / Chicago, Ill. / Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich delivered a suprise during an appearance this morning on NBC's 'Today' show by announcing he would be heading to L.A. to promote the upcoming reality program 'I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here.'

Earlier this week, a federal judge in Chicago said he would not alter the former governor's bond allowing him to travel to Costa Rica to participate in the show.

"He's mindful and respectful of the court's ruling that he can't leave the country but we're still exploring ways for him to be part of the show," says Glenn Selig, Blagojevich's publicist and founder of the PR firm, The Publicity Agency (http://www.thepublicityagency.com). "He wants to be supportive of the program."

Selig declined to elaborate on the options being explored.

The former governor will attend a press event for NBC this Friday, April 24.

Blagojevich had hoped to earn a salary for appearing on the program that airs in June, in addition to raising money for his favorite charity.

Lon Monk pleads not guilty to corruption charge

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The former chief of staff to ex-Gov. Blagojevich pleaded not guilty to a corruption charge this morning. But Lon Monk, 50, is expected to plead guilty in the future as a result of his cooperation with the government, prosecutors said.

Monk is appearing in court today to face a corruption charge. Monk, a lobbyist who was highly active in fund-raising with Blagojevich in the months before the ex-governor's arrest last year, is cooperating with authorities. Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar revealed Tuesday that Monk is expected to plead guilty and cooperate against the governor. Monk was recorded talking to the ex-governor about an alleged shakedown of a horse-racing executive. 


The Sun-Times first reported that the feds had tapped Monk's cell phone last year and secretly recorded numerous conversations. 


Monk is expected to plead not guilty today at his arraignment but will likely change that plea at a future date. Monk was Blagojevich's first-term chief of staff. His more recent chief of staff, John Harris, is also cooperating and expected to plead guilty.

BLAGO: Judge saved me from eating bugs

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Here's what the ex-governor said this morning on his Today show interview.

Blago on TV tomorrow?

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NBC-5 just reported that the former governor will appear on the "Today" show tomorrow morning on the heels of a federal judge denying his reality show bid.
He's likely to address the judge's remarks that Blagojevich doesn't fully understand the allegations he's facing. Blagojevich said the reality show in Costa Rica wasn't his "first choice" to raise income, but described it as a way to help his family.

Blago says "I'm fully aware" of allegations

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This evening Rod Blagojevich released a statement through his PR agency, noting he's "fully aware" of the allegations he's facing. His comments come after a federal judge denied his bid today to take part in a reality show in Costa Rica.
"I respect the judge and his decision. I am trying to find a way to work to support my little girls and family. "I'm fully aware of what the allegations are and I know what the truth is concerning me and I know that I've done absolutely nothing wrong."

What was in that Tiffany bag anyway?

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A real Tiffany candle and candle holder -- along with a note of support.

So the plan this morning was for Blago to meet up with two deputy U.S. Marshals at the Dunkin Donuts across the street from the federal courthouse and they'd make a clandestine approach to the building.
It didn't work so well.
The media caught on and sabotaged them as they tried crossing the street.
While en route though, someone handed Blago a Tiffany bag with a box in it.
It contained a Tiffany candle and candle holder as well as a note that said something along the lines of: "Good luck. We know you're innocent. You did good things for the people," according to comments made by the ex-governor himself and his lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky,
How someone had a gift ready for Blagojevich at that moment remains a mystery.

NBC statement on Blago's denial to be on show

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"NBC is disappointed in the court's decision today regarding Rod Blagojevich's participation on "I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!," but excited about the casting announcement for the show this Friday. There are no plans to move the show to a location in the United States."

Two elevator rides within a week with Blago

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Earlier this morning, the media was stationed outside the front of the federal courthouse. Blagojevich emerged from the Dunkin Donuts across the street with a broad smile on his face.
Deputy U.S. Marshals crossed the street to meet him over there.
Then the media horde followed. A Pace bus hit its brakes as media scattered across the street.
Blagojevich crossed the street with the crush of people, who were walking backwards. A microphone dropped. The ex-governor crouched down to pick it up. "Whose is this?"
"Thanks governor," the reporter said. "alright," he responded.
Once inside the elevator, Blagojevich apologized to the deputy marshals for drawing the horde. They told him it wasn't his fault. The two deputies said they were going to start bringing the ex-governor into the building through another location because of all the media craziness.
"But then they come to my home," Blago said.
At one point, someone from the public handed Blagojevich a Tiffany bag with a box in it. "I hope that's not ticking," security told Blagojevich, who assured them it had gone through a security scan.
Blagojevich's lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, told chief deputy U.S. Marshal John O'Malley that the ex-governor should have hired him as his chief of security or chief of staff. O'Malley looked surprised, and said something to the effect of: "Nah, that's a different John." Blagojevich's former chief of staff is John Harris. He's cooperating in the investigation. On his way down the hallway, Blagojevich stopped to shake hands and talk in Spanish to people sitting in the hallway waiting. Looking serious and sympathetic, he said: "buena suerte," (good luck). It turned out they were there for a swearing-in citizenship ceremony.

No Costa Rica show means a $123,000 loss to Blago

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A judge's denial of allowing Blagojevich to film a reality show means a financial blow to the out of work Blagojevich.
He stood to earn $123,250.00 if he were on the Survivor-style reality show until the bitter end, according to a defense motion. He more than likely would have been paid about $60,000 for the show, according to the filing.
The filing also reveals that Blagojevich was paid a $21,000 advance on his book, which is due out in October.
The defense motion says Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, have been "out of work," since January. It told the judge that Blago sought to take part in a TV series filmed in the "harsh and unpleasant circumstances, in the natural terrain of Costa Rica." Blago and others "would then be required to combat the elements and work with each other."
The motion said denying Blago a chance to go to Costa Rica would bring "unnecessary and extreme economic hardship upon the defendant and his family."

BLAGOJEVICH_ARRIVES_COURT0421.JPG
Rod Blagojevich enters Dirksen Federal Building four a court hearing Tuesday morning. (Brian Jackson/Sun-Times)

A federal judge said that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich cannot go to Costa Rica to film a reality show.

"I don't think this defendant in all honesty ... fully understands the position he finds himself in," said U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

"I have to do it for my kids," Rod Blagojevich said this morning, before his court hearing, explaining that he needs the money the NBC reality show would pay -- as much as $80,000 an episode.

Blagojevich asked Zagel if he could travel to Costa Rica to appear on the "Survivor"-style reality show "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here." 

Click here to read the rest of Natasha Korecki's story at SunTimes.com.

blagohome

The ex-governor himself is expected to be in the courtroom this morning to try to get U.S. District Judge James Zagel's permission to travel to Costa Rica.
In a twist, the Sun-Times has learned that Blagojevich's lawyers are expected to offer to sign an extradition waiver to allay any concerns of allowing a defendant to travel out of the country while on bond. Blagojevich's lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, said he will likely offer up the extradition waiver if it will bolster Blagojevich's chances of going.
Ultimately, it will be up to Zagel to decide whether television viewers will get to see Illinois' former chief executive tough it out in the jungles of Costa Rica.
Representatives and an attorney from the "Survivor"-style reality show "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here" might also attend the hearing. Pending court approval, Blagojevich has signed on to do the prime-time NBC program that pays contestants up to $80,000 an episode. Filming starts in June, so Blagojevich's contract finalization is looming.
While prosecutors are expected to oppose the move, the defense is expected to portray it as a job opportunity. Blago has been out of work since he was booted out of office in January.
Because Blagojevich isn't deemed a flight risk or a threat to society, there's no outright legal barrier from doing the show. It will be up to Zagel's discretion.

Fitzgerald takes witness stand

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pfitz

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald took a seat in a different chair today -- as a witness in a trial. (No, this has nothing to do with Blagojevich, but I think it'll be of interest to Blagoblog followers anyway.) His testimony comes in the trial of deputy U.S. Marshal John Ambrose, who's accused of leaking secret witness protection information that made its way to the mob. Fitzgerald described an intense, more than two-hour session with Ambrose in 2006, in which Ambrose was brought to the FBI office in Chicago under false pretenses.
Ambrose, who was the number two in the Great Lakes Fugitive Task Force, was told to come to the FBI headquarters to discuss a terrorism fugitive.
He arrived to find Fitzgerald and FBI chief Rob Grant in the room, ready to question him about how sensitive information about protected informant Nick Calabrese ended up in the hands of the mob. Fitzgerald said Ambrose's carotid artery pulsated in anxiety, that he appeared was stressed and at times exasperated.
"I bleeped up. I bleeped up," Fitzgerald said Ambrose told them. "I shot my mouth off -- but it's not what you think."
Ambrose was turned over to case agents and assistants for further interview.
Fitzgerald made his way back to the federal building courtroom -- to watch the sentencing of former Gov. George Ryan. As he awaited the sentencing to begin, Fitzgerald said he jotted down notes from the interview.


cari

Steve Rhodes tells us that former national Democratic fund-raiser Joe Cari is now blogging -- and on Twitter. His blog page is entitled "Josephcari.com On politics and Economics." The court recently allowed Cari, who pleaded guilty to extortion in 2005, to travel to Lebanon to act as a guest lecturer. He has not yet been sentenced.
Cari figured prominently in the early stages of the Blagojevich investigation, back when the ex-governor was still referred to as "Public Official A."
Cari was one of the first to cite a conversation with Blagojevich that alleged the governor was open to "pay to play" in his administration.
Cari testified at the trial of Tony Rezko that Blagojevich once told him his plan for a prominent political career involved raising political cash from across the country, and reward big contributors with state contracts. Blagojevich denied the conversation.

John Harris working on plea deal. Will be witness.

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harris

Blago's ex-chief of staff John Harris is working on a plea deal that will likely be finalized in 30 days, his lawyer, Terry Ekl said.
Ekl joked that his client wasn't asking for permission to head off to Costa Rica (that's where Blago wants to go to film a reality show.)
"John's reality is right here in this building," Ekl said. Ekl said Harris has been providing "truthful information to the prosecution. We anticipate that John will be called as a witness in the trial of the governor and others," Ekl said.
The Sun-Times first confirmed Harris' cooperation in mid-January.
Ekl said one thing is clear from Harris' cooperation, that his client never did a thing to benefit himself.
For today, Harris pleaded not guilty. William Cellini and Chris Kelly also entered not guilty pleas with Cellini' lawyer, Dan Webb, vowing to sever his client from the Blago case.
Webb said the government's move to meld the Cellini case with the massive allegations against Blagojevich could bring "extraordinary prejudice" to his client.

Three Blago codefendants to appear today

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Three more defendants charged in ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's case are up in court today to face corruption charges.
They are:
• Former adviser and long-time Blagojevich friend Chris Kelly. This is the third indictment of Kelly, he was previously charged in two other cases. In January, he pleaded guilty to a tax scheme involving his roofing company. He was later charged again in a scheme involving contracts at O'Hare airport. Kelly is named in four counts in the Blagojevich indictment, including racketeering conspiracy, fraud, extortion and attempted extortion conspiracy.
• Springfield millionaire William Cellini. Cellini faces three charges tied to a scheme involving the Teachers Retirement System and an alleged effort to get a firm to pay $1.5 million to the ex-governor's campaign fund in exchange for state business.
• Blagojevich's most recent chief of staff John Harris, who is cooperating with the government and is expected to sign onto a plea deal. Harris was arrested with Blagojevich on Dec. 9. He faces just one wire fraud count. He will be arraigned separately, an hour later than Cellini and Kelly.
The three will appear before U.S. District Judge James Zagel and are expected to plead not guilty to the charges.

State worker resigns one day after Sun-Times story

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Rajinder Bedi, managing director of the state's Office of Trade & Investment, resigned his post Tuesday -- a day after the Sun-Times reported he was involved in an alleged scheme surrounding U.S. Rep.Jesse Jackson Jr.'s bid to be appointed to the U.S. Senate seat post. The Sun-Times reported Monday that Bedi approached the brother of Rod Blagojevich last October to tell him of a proposal to appoint Jackson to the Senate seat. The proposal was that Jackson would raise $5 million for Blagojevich after his appointment and the Indian community, through the efforts of Raghuveer Nayak, would raise another $1 million. Nayak made another, similar approach. Sources say that Bedi's approach to Blagojevich was to convey what Nayak could do for the now ex-governor. Sources say Nayak represented himself as a Jackson representative. Jackson denied he allowed Nayak to make any pay-to-play overtures.
Bedi resigned after Gov. Quinn told him he'd likely be fired by the end of the month.
Former Gov. Blagojevich, who pleaded not guilty to charges yesterday, hired Bedi back in 2003.

Next up for Blago, reality TV in Costa Rica

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When he was indicted, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich went to Disney World. Now
that he's been arraigned on federal corruption charges, Blagojevich wants to
head off to the jungles of Costa Rica.
Blagojevich has signed on to do a "Survivor"-style reality show "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here" that's to be filmed this June in Costa Rica.
It's a new prime-time NBC program that pays contestants up to $80,000 an
episode. Until they're voted off, anyway.
I should note it was the Sun-Times that first revealed Blagojevich's intentions to get court approval to film a reality TV show in Costa Rica in our online story detailing Blago's circus-like visit to the federal courthouse.
Blagojevich will be on the program along with Nancy Kerrigan, of ice-skating
/ knee-thrashing fame, among others.
One potential hold-up: The former governor first needs to get permission
from U.S. District Judge James Zagel to travel outside the country.
His lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, asked Tuesday for a hearing in a week, telling
Zagel, "We may be seeking to enlarge his bond for travel purposes."
The reality show will be something new even for the media-savvy Blagojevich,
who went on a national TV and radio blitz earlier this year.
He's doing it in part to bring in some money, sources close to the
ex-governor say. He's been unemployed since the Illinois Legislature booted
him from office in January. His wife, Patti Blagjevich, is also unemployed
after she was let go from her fund-raising job with the Chicago Christian
Industrial League.
Blagojevich is also trying to finish writing his book, which is due in May.
He signed for a six-figure advance for the book earlier this year. It's
expected out in the fall.

Blago smiles -- even as he's smothered

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blagoarraign

The media circus was in full swing at the courthouse, with dozens of photographers and reporters swarming the governor and pushing and shoving each other.
I haven't seen it this bad since the international media converged here for media baron
Conrad Black. At that time, the media mass was so out of control, attorney Ed Genson, who was riding in his motorized scooter, was knocked clear over.
No one was knocked over this morning outside of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
But that just may have been a minor miracle.
There were more than 60 press people swarming all over Rod Blagojevich, who at first said he'd take no questions.
But, as he turned to leave, he started answering shouting reporters.
As he answered, more people moved in around him, barely allowing him to walk. At many points, the whole crowd seemed to move as one giant flock.
"Oh my God," one photographer exclaimed as he looked over the pile of bodies.
And he was one of the shooters who was standing above us all on a concrete barrier outside.
Another photographer swore and then apologized to the ex-governor. Blagojevich smiled and said it was nothing he hadn't heard before: "Listen to some of those tapes," he said. (The secret recordings of Blagojevich last year are ridden with expletives, according to snippets of transcripts released to the public.)

blagocrush

Outside, photographers and cameramen stood atop of concrete barriers to get an overhead view of the ex-governor. Inside, some set up small ladders to get a good shot. Back outside, reporters swore as they stepped on each other's feet.
Others huddled around, shoving their mics or tape recorders to the governor -- not even getting anywhere near him. "He's not going to leave until the last question is asked," one TV reporter commented on Blagojevich.
Onlookers in the public took out their cell phones to snap photos and videotape the mess.
Others inside the courthouse stood by the glass windows, sipping coffee and watching the spectacle.
In the midst of all this, Blagojevich stopped to add something else.
"Let me say one more thing. I want to say this to the people of Illinois. I have not let them down. I never stopped working hard for them or fighting for them," Blagojevich said.
Asked repeatedly about adding another lawyer to address a "massive" indictment, Blagojevich lawyer Sheldon Sorosky said: "We'll need five or six lawyers."
Then, asked what his strategy was moving forward, Rod Blagojevich said: "the truth."
Through it all, Rod Blagojevich continued to smile, seeming to bask in the attention even as he was getting smothered.

Blago's brother wants a separate trial

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Sure they grew up together, played in a Serbian band together, and two weeks ago were indicted together, but enough is enough, Rod Blagojevich's brother, Robert seemed to say today.
His lawyer, Michael Ettinger, said he'll seek a separate trial for Robert Blagojevich, 53, of Nashville, Tennesse.
Ettinger acknowledged today that there was some friction between the Blagojevich brothers since elder brother, Robert, got charged with criminal wrongdoing April 2.
"There was some, but it's fine now," Ettinger said.
Ettinger added: "He entered a plea of not guilty. We're going to trial."
Asked if there's any chance of a plea deal: "Nope," Ettinger said.
Robert Blagojevich was charged in two wire fraud counts of the 19 counts in the indictment. He said after court that he was "prepared to cope with the charges and work through them."
The ex-governor faces 17 counts, ranging from racketeering to extortion to making false statements to the government.

My elevator ride with Blago

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I rode on the elevator with ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, moments after he left the courtroom this morning. We were on the way down to the courthouse lobby, where he knew a massive media horde awaited him.
He was in a chipper mood, despite just pleading not guilty to sweeping corruption charges. He shook my hand and smiled.
"How are you?"
"How are you" I countered, then asked how he was feeling.
Blagojevich thought for a second.
Then he compared himself to Winston Churchhill after battle. He quoted the British statesman: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
I followed him to the courthouse lobby where the media scrum was waiting. He floated toward the cameras, almost instinctively, but his lawyer tugged at him to just keep walking.
Blagojevich then said he wouldn't talk. But then he turned and said: "the truth will prevail. I look forward to clearing my name and being vindicated."
Instead of wearing a jogging suit like the day he appeared in court in December following his arrest, Rod Blagojevich wore a pin-striped suit and a blue tie. He was serious in the courtroom, keeping his hands folded in front of him and answering: "I have a degree from law school," when asked about his education.
Rod and Robert Blagojevich, were released on $4,500 recognizance bonds, after they were charged in a 19-count indictment. Rod Blagojevich's lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, asked for a short court date to ask for an expanded travel for his client. Rod Blagojevich, 52, is trying to head to Costa Rica to film a reality TV show there -- but they need court permission before that can happen. Sorosky also told U.S. District Judge James Zagel that the governor needs another lawyer and said there were concerns with tapping into the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund to pay attorney's fees. Zagel set a short date for next week to take up those issues.
Just before entering the courthouse to a media throng, Robert Blagojevich, 53, of Tennessee, said simply: "I'm prepared."
The media circus was in full swing at the courthouse, with dozens of photographers and reporters swarming the governor and pushing and shoving each other.
On his way out, Rod Blagojevich at first said he'd take no questions but as he turned to leave, he started answering shouting reporters.
As he answered, more people moved in around him, barely allowing him to walk. "Oh my God," one photographer exclaimed as he looked over the mass of bodies. Another swore and then apologized to the ex-governor. Blagojevich smiled and said it was nothing he hadn't heard before: "Listen to some of those tapes," he said. The secret recordings of Blagojevich last year are ridden with expletives, according to snippets of transcripts released to the public.
Photographers and cameramen stood atop of concrete barriers to get an overhead view of the ex-governor. Reporters swore as they stepped on each other's feet. Others huddled around, shoving their mics or tape recorders to the governor -- not even getting anywhere near him. "He's not going to leave until the last question is asked," one TV reporter commented on Blagojevich.
Onlookers in the public took out their cell phones to snap photos and videotape the mess. Others inside the courthouse stood by the glass windows, sipping coffee and watching the spectacle.
Through it all, Rod Blagojevich kept a smile, seeming to bask in the attention even as he was getting smothered.

BLAGO PLEADS NOT GUILTY

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The ex-governor and his brother this morning pleaded not guilty to sweeping corruption charges, including an alleged effort to sell President Obama's Senate seat.
Rod Blagojevich, moments after leaving the courtroom, compared himself to Churchhill, saying "this is the end of the beginning."
He added that "the truth will prevail. I look forward to clearing my name and being vindicated."
Rod and Robert Blagojevich were each charged in a 19-count indictment.
Just before entering the courthouse to a media throng, Robert Blagojevich, 53, of Tennessee, said simply: "I'm prepared."

Let the circus begin ...

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Camera crews are wandering in front of the Dirksen courthouse downtown. Reporters and photographers are huddled inside the media "bull pen" inside the building.
And, 90 minutes before the arraignment of Rod Blagojevich and his brother is even set to start, the courtroom on the 25th floor is already filling up.
Blagojevich and his brother, Robert Blagojevich will face charges today in a wide-ranging indictment that was returned April 2. They're likely to plead not guilty in front of U.S. District Judge James Zagel and each is expected to make comments to the media before leaving the building.
But today is really about the circus of the event. It's the first time the ex-governor will enter the building since his spectacular Dec. 9 arrest -- when he showed up in a jogging suit and left escorted by his security. Today, he'll enter the building as a private citizen, as he was ousted from public office earlier this year. Courtroom security, in preparing for Blagojevich and ordering that no special arrangements would be made on his behalf, referred to him as MR. Blagojevich. Emphasis added.

On deck tomorrow: Just Blago and his bro

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Just a week ago, we expected a small crowd of defendants to attend their arraignments in the corruption case of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
But of the six people indicted, just two -- the ex-governor himself and his brother -- will face charges tomorrow.
The ex-governor's former fund-raiser, Chris Kelly, moved his arraignment date today to later in the week. There's a conflict because Kelly's lawyer is in Florida.
Nonetheless, expect nothing short of a circus here at 219 S. Dearborn.

There's been a few new disclosures about U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and the Senate seat appointment that's under federal scrutiny, but today the Sun-Times makes a new revelation.
Two donors told the Blagojevich camp that Jackson himself would raise campaign cash in exchange for the Senate seat appointment -- to the tune of $5 million. The donors would kick in another $1 million to Blagojevich if Jesse Jr. were appointed, according to sources.
There's no indication of Jackson's involvement in this alleged pledge. He would not comment for the article.
One of the reported conversations took place Oct. 31, when a Jackson longtime supporter and Blagojevich donor approached Robert Blagojevich
According to the indictment, Robert Blagojevich, who headed the ex-governor's campaign fund, talked with his brother the next day on the phone to give him an update on fund-raising with Jackson's supporters.
The Blagojevich brothers are both charged with wire fraud because of that conversation.

Cellini already distancing himself from Blago

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Downstate businessman William Cellini may be a co-defendant of former Gov. Blagojevich but he's trying to keep his distance. Instead of showing up in federal court on Tuesday with the Blagojevich brothers and Christopher Kelly to answer indictment charges, Cellini will appear two days later. The lead attorney for the wealthy power-broker has already said he'll ask that a judge sever Cellini from the Blagojevich case. Attorney Dan Webb has said that the charges against Cellini have nothing to do with the Blagojevich indictment as a whole. The ex-governor faces a wide range of charges, from racketeering to false statement charges. Cellini is accused of scheming to shakedown a firm that sought state business with the Teachers Retirement System.

Blago won't get special courthouse treatment Tuesday

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Come Tuesday morning, our former governor will likely walk through security, take off his jacket, run his items through a scanner and show his ID to court house security.
A spokesman for the chief judge of the federal courthouse said today that when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich appears for his arraignment Tuesday he will get "no special treatment."
Joel Daly said Blagojevich will enter and exit the building just like the public.
That will only change if the judge in Blagojevich's case, James Zagel, issues his own order, Daly said.
It's likely to be a madhouse Tuesday at the Dirksen Federal Building as Blagojevich, his brother, Robert, former fund-raiser Chris Kelly and Springfield powerbroker William Cellini are all expected to answer indictment charges.
The charges came down Thursday and accused the men of wide-ranging fraud within state government.

Public rallies to end corruption

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In the wake of a statewide scandal involving ex-gov Rod Blagojevich, a citizens' group is rallying today to stop corruption in Illinois.

Here's what they have to say:

CHICAGO, Illinois - Mere steps from indicted former Governor Rod Blagojevich's office, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Chicago today with a simple message: "We've had enough!" Voters joined with civic and business leaders, religious and non-profit groups for a public CHANGE Illinois! rally calling for an end to corruption in Illinois politics.

"Corruption in Illinois has turned us from the land of Lincoln to a national laughingstock," said Rev. Patricia Watkins, Executive Director of Target Area Development Corp. "We need to take special interest money out of Illinois politics - the people deserve to get their voices back."

The rally, organized by CHANGE Illinois!, focused on the need to clean up Illinois politics now.

"On behalf of AARP's nearly 2 million in Illinois, I can say we're tired of politics as usual standing in the way of progress as it should be," said Merri Dee, State President for AARP. "The people of Illinois need to stand up and demand that things change."

CHANGE Illinois! has launched a statewide campaign to end the culture of corruption in Illinois politics. The coalition's first priority is take large donations out of Illinois campaign through enacting strict campaign contribution limits. The coalition has been taking the message to communities across the state, setting up the CHANGE Illinois! Hotline (1-800-719-3020) to connect voters to their state lawmakers to urge them to help put an end to pay-to-play politics. Illinois is one of only four states with no limits on political campaign contributions.

"Unless people throughout Illinois contact their legislators and demand change, we're going to see even more waste and corruption in our government," Peter Bensinger, Co-Chair of CHANGE Illinois!, said. "If we can't change the way government does business in Illinois, corporate leaders are going to think twice about doing business here."

Since 1970, over 1000 Illinois public officials have been convicted of corruption, including 19 judges (serving half the state's population), 30 Chicago Alderman, two Governors with a third now indicted and a former State Attorney General --- one conviction every other week.

For more information about the CHANGE Illinois! The Coalition for Honest and New Government Ethics: www.ChangeIL.org

Me on Mancow

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I will be a guest on the Mancow and Cassidy morning show today at about 9:30 a.m. to talk about the Sun-Times' coverage of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Tune in! WLS 890 AM

JESSE JACKSON JR. BREAKS HIS SILENCE

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After not responding to requests for comment for days, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
acknowledged today he is under scrutiny by a House ethics panel, saying: "I have done nothing wrong."
His comments come after the Sun-Times first reported Tuesday that Jackson's efforts to secure President Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat are being reviewed in a congressional inquiry.
He said today he is cooperating in the probe -- and is confident it will be dismissed.
"I am cooperating fully with the preliminary review being conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE)," Jackson said in a statement released by his office. "I was notified last week about the inquiry and am eager to answer any questions and provide any information to the OCE about my actions related to last year's vacant Senate seat."
Jackson's statement is his first on the topic, despite repeated requests for comment in previous days.
"As I said when the [Rod] Blagojevich scandal first broke back in December, I have done nothing wrong and reject pay-to-play politics," Jackson said. "I'm confident that this new ethics office -- which I voted in favor of creating -- will be able to conduct a fair and expeditious review and dismiss this matter."
Jackson has been tough to get a hold of lately. The Sun-Times sought to get a comment from Jackson last week and Monday in response to a different story that ran Tuesday -- that Jackson was interviewed by federal authorities.
We were able to reach Jackson's wife, the 7th Ward Ald. Sandi Jackson, and his father -- the Rev. Jesse Jackson -- but neither congressman Jackson, his attorney nor his spokesman would comment.

BLAGO, CELLINI, OTHERS TO BE IN COURT TUESDAY

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Four defendants -- including the ex-governor -- are expected to appear in federal court Tuesday to answer corruption charges.
Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, his brother, Robert, former gubernatorial adviser and fund-raiser Christopher Kelly and Springfield power-broker William Cellini are scheduled to be arraigned 11 a.m. Tuesday in front of U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
They will answer corruption charges brought down in an indictment last week. Two others who were indicted, John Harris and Lon Monk, are cooperating with the government and are expected to be arraigned April 16.

jjj

A congressional ethics board has launched a preliminary inquiry into U.S.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill), related to President Obama's vacant Senate
seat and the corruption investigation of ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the
Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, formed just last year, voted in late
March to conduct a "preliminary review," of actions surrounding Jackson's
bid to be appointed to the Senate seat, according to documents received by parties in the case. The committee launched the action Thursday -- the same day
Blagojevich was indicted on corruption charges.
The panel has asked parties in the Blagojevich case -- including his former
gubernatorial staff and campaign staff -- to turn over any documents, emails,
or other correspondence involving Jackson Jr. and his campaign staff,
Jackson's brother, Jonathan, and political fund-raisers Raghuveer Nayak and
Rajinder Bedi, lawyers close to the probe told the Sun-Times. The request
for information is from June of last year through Dec. 31, 2008.
Nayak, Bedi and Jonathan Jackson attended a Dec. 6 fund-raiser hosted by the
Indian community for Friends of Blagojevich. People attending the event have
told the Sun-Times that discussions about future fund-raising for
congressman Jackson's Senate candidacy took place at the function.
Jesse Jackson Jr. has not been accused of wrongdoing in the Blagojevich
case. He was referred to as "Candidate A" in the indictment of Blagojevich
and was recently interviewed by the feds. Blagojevich believed he would be
paid $1.5 million through Jackson Jr. "emissaries" if he named Jackson to
the Senate seat, according to the federal charges.
A federal criminal complaint alleges that the ex-governor told his brother
in a recorded call to meet with Nayak, referred to as "Individual D," to ask
about giving money up front for Jackson's appointment. The next day the
ex-governor told his own brother to "undo that [Nayak] thing" after reports
surfaced that the feds could be recording conversations, according to the
criminal complaint against Blagojevich.
Nayak has since been in discussions with federal investigators.
The ethics panel typically investigates a matter for 30 days before making a
recommendation to the House members' chief ethics panel, the Committee on
Standards of Official Conduct. That committee can take action, refuse
action or continue the probe.
Leo Wise, who heads the Office of Congressional Ethics, said he could not
confirm or deny the existence of any investigation. His non-partisan panel,
made up of private citizens, was created by the House last year to review
allegations against its members. Judge Abner Mikva is among those on the
panel.
"We're a fact-gathering, investigative entity," Wise said. Wise explained
that the panel does not have subpoena abilities but the House dictated
powers allowing it to interview witnesses and request documents.
A spokesman for congressman Jackson did not return a call seeking comment.
Jonathan Jackson also did not respond to a request for comment.
Jackson is the second member of the Illinois delegation to come under ethical scrutiny this year. In February, the Senate ethics committee launched an inquiry into U.S. Senator Roland Burris' rise to the appointment by Blagojevich. Burris (D-Ill) has given conflicting answers about his contacts with the former governor and his campaign team prior to the appointment. The inquiry into Burris was launched after the Sun-Times revealed inconsistencies in sworn statements he made before an Illinois House impeachment panel.

Feds question congressman Jackson about Obama's seat

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jessejackson

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson was recently questioned by federal authorities in connection with the Blagojevich investigation, the Sun-Times reports today.
Today's story also details the feds' efforts to step up this part of their investigation, issuing a new round of subpoenas to witnesses and for evidence involving this part of the investigation.
Jackson last year held a news conference to denounce then-Gov.Blagojevich after the former governor's arrest. Jackson said his involvement in seeking President Obama's vacant senate seat was above board.
But Jackson wasn't answering any questions yesterday about his talk with the feds. Calls to his office and attorney left since last week were not returned.
His father and wife commented for our article, but neither the congressman, nor his spokesman, would comment. Jackson was referred to as Candidate A in a corruption indictment returned Thursday against Blagojevich. The ex-Gov. believed he would be paid $1.5 million in exchange for appointing Jackson to the Senate seat, according to charges. Jackson was not accused with wrongdoing.

blagospoof

While watching the Second City production "Rod Blagojevich Superstar," last night I was immediately struck by the familiarity of the jokes.
Punch-line after punch-line, the crowd chortled. But the punch-lines were, well, real. I finally leaned over to my husband: "They're not making that up, that really happened." (Or at least, it was alleged to have happened.)
"I guess if you take the truth and make it rhyme, it's pretty funny," he said of the musical.
The crowd that packed into the Shakespeare Theatre last night sure thought so, laughing pretty heartily throughout.
In one example, the character playing U.S. Senator Roland Burris approaches the mop-headed Blagojevich and tells him he needs help finding a job for one of his kids.
"Roland or Rolanda?" Blagojevich asks, to which everyone laughed (those are really the names of Burris' children.)
He says Roland Burris Jr. needs a job because "he was foreclosed on a property he bought for $1."
Again, the packed theatre bellowed in laughter. But the Sun-Times reported the foreclosure in February.
Now, of course, there were plenty of exaggerations and actors interjected stuff that wasn't true at all.
But overall, the troupe boiled down the six-year Blago saga into a ripped-from-the-headlines comedy, done in one act.

Why wasn't Patti charged Thursday?

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There's varying opinions on why Patti Blagojevich wasn't among six people indicted Thursday despite a long-term federal investigation into her activities.
Sources say the probe into the former first lady continues.

Read today's story: The Mom Factor

Yesterday's indictment against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is presenting a conflict for the newest addition to his trial team. Veteran defense lawyer Terry Gillespie, who just joined on board last week, is likely to drop out of the Blagojevich case, defense lawyers say.

That's because Gillespie previously committed to helping in the defense of Springfield power broker William Cellini. Yesterday, Cellini became a Blagojevich co-defendant. Gillespie didn't know they would be codefendants until Blago's indictment was returned. Prosecutors decided to charge the case by superseding, or adding new defendants and charges, to Cellini's existing case.

Cellini's chief defense lawyer, Dan Webb, already said he will ask a judge to try Cellini separately from Blagojevich. But there's no telling whether that will be successful.

Cellini is charged with taking part in a scheme to shakedown a fund manager in exchange for a campaign donation to Blagojevich. Cellini was caught on numerous wiretapped conversations with Stuart Levine, who became a top government witness.
Gillespie was preparing to question Levine in the Cellini case.

In a news release reacting to the massive corruption indictment lodged against former Gov. Blagojevich, U.S. Sen. Roland Burris praises the ex-governor for his final act in office --appointing Burris. Burris calls the appointment of himself "exceptional" and says he has a: "reputation of integrity and superior public service to the U.S. Senate seat."
Weeks after accepting the position, Burris plunged into a national scandal after the Sun-Times revealed he had dealings with the governor's brother about fund-raising but failed to initially disclose the discussions in sworn testimony.
Here's his release:

Response To Reaction From Senator Roland Burris On Blagojevich Indictment 

It is another sad day in our state's history that one more governor has been indicted by federal prosecutors.  During the 2002 gubernatorial primary,  Rod Blagojevich was a worthy opponent who ran on a platform of reform.  Now, that indictment charges have been filed, the people of Illinois will have the final say on whether he squandered the incredible generousity the people of Illinois gave him--their trust.

To Blagojevich's credit, he decided as a final act it was important to appoint someone with an exceptional reputation of integrity and superior public service to the U.S. Senate seat.  Blagojevich gave Illinois the chance to accomplish three worthy goals -- save the taxpayer's an expensive special election, give the state a representative of proven experience,  and show the rest of the world Illinois has good officials to take us beyond our tainted image.  His last words were, "Please don't let the allegations against me taint this good and honest man," Blagojevich said at the time.

To the extent those goals have not been met, the Democratic leadership can blame its own tainted motivations.  They have tried their best to discredit one of the few "clean" politicians Illinois has ever known, in order to do exactly what Blagojevich warned against.  They saw one of his final official acts as an attempt to outwit them.  So, instead of joining forces with Burris to work to get beyond this sad chapter, they decided to extend the "Blagojevich burlesque" for their own political motivations.

Blago: "I'm saddened and hurt" by indictment

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Today former Gov. Rod Blagojevich released a statement: "I'm saddened and hurt but I am not surprised by the indictment.  I am innocent. 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."

BLAGO, his brother, Lon Monk, Cellini all charged

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Nineteen count indictment ranging from fraud conspiracy to attempted extortion.
The indictment was superceded on an existing case against downstate businessman William Cellini. That means they have Judge Zagel as the judge in the case.


Today's the day ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich is going to be indicted, sources say.
On the former governor's to-do list?
A couple of well-known rides at Disney World in Orlando, according to a defense lawyer.
Buzz Light Year. And maybe Tower of Terror.
I reached an attorney for the governor's brother just moments ago who confirmed he was waiting for the Blagojevich family and, in a matter of minutes, was heading off to the Magic Kingdom. Blagojevich is there with his wife and two kids.
"We have our families here and we're going to enjoy ourselves," said Michael Ettinger, attorney for Robert Blagojevich. Robert Blagojevich, who lives in Nashville, headed his brother's campaign fund and is also a target of a grand jury.
He is not in Disney World today.
Asked what was on the agenda on such a big day, Ettinger said simply: "Buzz Lightyear for sure. Maybe Tower of Terror."

An addendum: The clan all ended up at the Magic Kingdom today. So no Tower of Terror.

Blago's indictment coming in a matter of hours

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Sources confirm that the "significant criminal matter" referred to in the U.S. Attorney's press release this morning is ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's indictment.
As predicted, there will be no news conference.
Blagojevich faces charges that he tried to sell President Obama's vacant Senate seat, as well as pay to play allegations.

A Blago indictment roadmap

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Today could be the day that ex-governor Blagojevich is indicted on corruption charges.
An indictment is necessary for the case to move to trial. Here's a few things to know and expect.

1) Why might it happen today? There is an April 7 deadline on the indictment -- that's Tuesday. But the grand jury considering the matter meets on Thursdays. Today is the last Thursday before the deadline.

2) Others will be charged. But don't expect many new defendants. The 90-day deadline (which, by the way, was self-imposed by the government -- the feds could have asked for another extension) only pertains to the two people charged in a criminal complaint: Rod Blagojevich and his ex-chief of staff, John Harris. So even though there's many others in the government's sights, the clock isn't ticking on an indictment return. Other known targets of the grand jury include the governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich, who was the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund chief, former chief of staff Lon Monk and the governor's wife, Patti Blagojevich. Both the campaign fund and the governor's brother figured prominently in the criminal complaint.

3) Don't expect a news conference. Past practice in the U.S. Attorney's office dictates that a news conference isn't held when a defendant is indicted on already announced charges. Besides, the big presser already happened last December and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald took some heat for his forceful remarks.

4) It will drop like a thud. That is, the actual weight of the document. The criminal complaint was nearly 80 pages, it makes sense that the indictment will be about as long or longer. The indictment is likely to be a commentary on Blagojevich's tenure in office, which stretched over seven years before his forced removal in February. Sources say it is likely to go into schemes involving two of his now convicted advisers -- Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly -- then mirror much of the complaint, touching on allegations of pay to play, selling the Senate seat, and scheming to have members of the Tribune editorial board fired.

5) Tapes will be referenced. The probe into Blagojevich's administration goes back to 2003. But a new phase of the investigation started last October when ex-Blago friend John Wyma gave the feds the probable cause to go up on wires. They initially bugged the campaign offices and tapped Blagojevich's home phone. They were investigating pay to play allegations, then stumbled on talk of allegedly selling the Senate seat. That meant another round of taps were approved, including: Harris' cell phone, Robert Blagojevich's cell phone and Monk's cell phone. A video camera was also put up over the campaign offices to help identify people caught on the bugs.

6) Are any Senate candidates or their emissaries in trouble? Don't expect that question to be answered today. The indictment is expected to focus largely on the ex-governor's own conduct and that of his fund-raising operation.
Expect there to be some detail involving Blagojevich's alleged scheming to appoint Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat and his discussions with her emissary, SEIU official Tom Balanoff (who is cooperating but not a target). There's not likely to be new revelations concerning discussions with representatives of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (Candidate 5 in the complaint).

7) Don't expect to see the ex-governor giving an impromptu availability in front of his house as he did the day he was removed from office. And don't expect him in court.
He's not required to appear in court until an arraignment date is set.
Besides, he and the family are in Disney World.

Indictment coming? Blago's gone to Disney World

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Tomorrow could be the day that a grand jury indictment will be returned against ex-governor Rod Blagojevich -- but if that happens, he won't be around to see it.
He took his wife, Patti, and two daughters to Disney World in Florida.
I'm told he checked into a resort earlier today and is expected to be at one of the theme parks tomorrow if an indictment comes down.
The timing of an out-of-town escape was likely no accident.
Blagojevich knew an indictment was likely to be returned this week because the grand jury had an April 7 deadline (Tuesday) to return it.
The grand jury considering the matter meets on Thursdays. If he is indicted tomorrow, there's nothing that requires Blagojevich to be in town or show up in court immediately. That will be set up for a later date.
So Thursday, when camera people stake out his Ravenswood Manor residence and TV reporters set up their live shots -- they're likely to do it in front of a dark, empty home.

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