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

June 2009 Archives

Blago pal Kelly faces foreclosure -- open to guilty plea

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Longtime Blago adviser, fund-raiser and friend Christopher Kelly, who has been in the government's sights for years, may roll.
On Tuesday, Kelly lawyer Michael Monico left open the door to his client pleading guilty in the final two cases he faces in federal court.
Kelly was sentenced last week to 37 months in a third case.
"That remains to be seen," Monico said when asked if trial were a certainty. "We're reviewing the evidence, we intend to pursue the results that are in the best interests of Mr. Kelly."
Though Kelly has flirted with flipping on his longtime pal, he's so far made no deal with prosecutors. But Monico has previously hinted that the two sides have had discussions.
Having picked up a felony conviction after pleading guilty in a tax fraud case, Kelly faces stiffer sentencing possibilities in the remaining two cases.
The plea in the tax case was not accompanied by a cooperation agreement.
Monico's comments came the same day a bank moved to foreclose on Kelly's home.
Old Second National Bank filed a $2.1 million foreclosure notice Tuesday on Kelly's Burr Ridge home.
In addition to the tax case, Kelly was indicted in an O'Hare Airport contract fraud scheme and is a Blagojevich codefendant, accused of corruption during the ex-governor's reign.
Kelly's cooperation would be a coup for prosecutors. Kelly, a longtime confidant to Blagojevich, was active in Blagojevich's first run for governor and his first-term administration.

Dr. Weinstein to face the music

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When Stuart Levine needed to get something off his chest, he usually called his buddy, the doctor.
That is, Dr. Robert Weinstein.
Weinstein's never figured prominently in the multi-year Blagojevich probe, but he's a figure worth noting.
Tomorrow he'll be sentenced in federal court after he pleaded guilty to a tax fraud count.
Levine, a member of two state boards, who turned into one of the most significant cooperators this town has seen in some time, bounced his crooked ideas off of Weinstein.
The two laughed about Levine's attempts to shake people down.
They plotted together about funneling illicit cash.
They created a charity just so they could rip off another charity.
And it was all caught on tape.
Their conversations were played at last year's trial of convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko.
Levine's confessions to Weinstein led the FBI in all kinds of directions including to Rezko's door.
Levine, who separately admitted to all-night binges on cocaine and Crystal Meth with other men at the now-shuttered Purple Hotel, at one point tells Weinstein about a multi-million kickback scheme.
"I'm drooling," Levine confesses.
Weinstein warns him: "Don't salivate."
Weinstein could face up to three years in prison for not disclosing he stole $3 million from a charity.

Patti Blagojevich has displayed a warrior spirit over the past three weeks in the Costa Rican jungle on TV's ''I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!''

And Monday night, she displayed a bit more -- showing castmates the spot on her tushie where a tick bit her.

"It picked the best-looking booty on the whole place to bite," ex-Chicago Bull John Salley said.

That pair has certainly bonded.

"Come back with your shield or on it," Patti said she told him as he prepared to go into an elimination challenge.

Her use of a line Spartan women spoke to their fellas before sending them into battle -- come home victorious or die a noble death -- was among several references to fighting it out that Patti made, staying on message in an effort to increase support for herself and hubby, Rod Blagojevich.

When actor Stephen Baldwin quit the competition over the weekend, she said, "How do you let the people that voted for you down?"

"I couldn't let my kids see me quit something like this, especially so close to the end."

Tonight, two contestants will be eliminated.

Prosecutor: Sen. Burris won't face perjury charge

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FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Illinois Sen. Roland Burris will not be charged with perjury for statements he made before an Illinois House impeachment committee because there isn't enough evidence to support the charge, the state prosecutor investigating the case said Friday.

Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt said that while some of Burris' statements were vague, they wouldn't support a perjury charge.

"I am obviously very pleased with today's decision by State's Attorney John Schmidt. His investigation was both thorough and fair, and I am glad that the truth has prevailed," Burris said in a statement.

"This matter has now been fully investigated; I cooperated at every phase of the process, and as I have said from the beginning, I have never engaged in any pay-to-play, never perjured myself, and came to this seat in an honest and legal way. Today's announcement confirms all that," he said.

Burris, 71, was appointed to President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich after the FBI arrested Blagojevich on corruption charges. Those charges include allegations that Blagojevich tried to sell the seat for political donations. Blagojevich, who was impeached and removed from office, has denied wrongdoing.

The new senator has been under intense scrutiny because of the circumstances surrounding his appointment and for changing his story multiple times about whether he promised anything for Blagojevich in exchange for the seat. The ethics committee began a preliminary investigation into how Burris got his job, and the Sangamon County state's attorney was asked to determine whether perjury charges were warranted.

Burris has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and asserted his appointment to the Senate was clean.

According to a wiretap transcript of conversations between Burris and Blagojevich, Burris promised to "personally do something" for the then-governor's campaign fund while pressing Blagojevich to appoint him to the seat.

The remark came after Robert Blagojevich urged Burris to "keep me in mind and you know if you guys can just write checks that'd be fine, if we can't find a way for you to tie in."

"Okay, okay, well we, we, I, I will personally do something, okay," Burris says.

Earlier in the conversation, Burris and Robert Blagojevich explored the possibility that Burris might raise campaign money on a larger scale.

"I know I could give him a check," Burris said. "Myself."

Burris attorney Timothy Wright has said Burris never wrote any checks to the Blagojevich campaign following the conversation. Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, had donated to Blagojevich's campaigns previously.

New lawyer to "quarterback" Blago evidence

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A new lawyer has been added to the Blagojevich team -- on a temporary basis.
Because the ex-governor's campaign fund -- and not the ex-governor -- is picking up the legal tab, the lawyer, who has just eight years experience, will be paid at the same rate as veteran attorneys on Blagojevich's case -- $110 an hour.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel authorized a lawyer by the name of Giel Stein to "quarterback" as lawyers go through evidence in the case. For now, Zagel, who has oversight over how the $2.3 million fund is spent, is authorizing Stein to work 40 hours at $110 an hour. Stein, a former senior associate at Winston & Strawn said he did some work on the George Ryan defense. In all, Stein has eight years experience and most of it has been doing civil work. He said he is "still being mentored" to become a member of the federal defense panel. Stein will oversee the legal staff that's combing over tapes, transcripts and documents turned over by the government in Blagojevich's case. Stein said he will, among other things, look at legal issues that arise.
In asking for Stein, Blagojevich lawyer Sheldon Sorosky said the defense wants to "get to trial as speedily as possible and keep the costs as minimal as possible."

Contributing: Tess Fardon

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As his wife braves self-absorbed reality TV stars and other creatures in the Costa Rican wilds, Rod Blagojevich this weekend will venture into another jungle: the Second City show mocking him as a corrupt, vainglorious buffoon.

The ex-gov will take part in Saturday's performance of "Rod Blagojevich Superstar" at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the company said Wednesday. Second City vice president Kelly Leonard declared himself "both excited and horrified."

It will be Blagojevich's first time seeing the four-month-old musical, although he interviewed its stars during a March fill-in stint on WLS-AM (890).

The "Superstar" run recently was extended through Aug. 9.

Key figure in Burris perjury probe killed in car crash

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BY DAVE McKINNEY Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief
SPRINGFIELD -- A key figure in the perjury investigation of U.S. Sen. Roland Burris died in an automobile accident Monday, authorities in far west-suburban Kendall County confirmed Tuesday.

John Ruff, of Sandwich, Ill., was killed shortly before 3 p.m. when his 2001 BMW convertible crossed an oncoming lane of traffic and collided with a tree while he was driving eastbound on Rogers Road near Oak Brook Road in unincorporated Plano, said Kendall County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Pearson.
Police have ruled out alcohol as a cause of the crash, but toxicology results won't be known until a coroner's inquest in mid July.
Pearson said there were no witnesses to the crash nor was there evidence of any other vehicles involved. There were no skid marks on the road.
"We have absolutely no idea what caused Mr. Ruff's vehicle to veer off the roadway," Pearson said.
Deputy Kendall County Coroner Jacquie Marcellis told the Sun-Times that Ruff died of blunt head and chest trauma. No autopsy is planned.
Marcellis said that a friend of Ruff's indicated to her that he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, though it was unclear whether that had any bearing on the crash.
"Obviously, one of the effects of a brain tumor is you have seizures. It could have been an issue for him," she said.
Ruff, 42, was the subject of a March 6 front-page story in the Sun-Times in which he issued an apology for being a co-plaintiff with Burris in a lawsuit seeking to force Secretary of State Jesse White to certify Burris' controversial late-December appointment by impeached ex-Gov. Blagojevich.
Ruff, a health-care and political consultant, raised the prospect of a possible quid pro quo between Blagojevich and Burris, recounting a telephone conversation with Burris' business partner Fred Lebed, who allegedly told Ruff on the date of Burris' appointment, "We'll have to do some things for the governor."
Ruff also said he recalled Lebed telling him he'd had discussions about Burris' interest in the Senate appointment with Blagojevich representatives -- lobbyist John Wyma, now-indicted chief of staff John Harris and former chief of staff Lon Monk -- as early as October.
That information contradicted Burris' claim in a Jan. 5 affidavit in which the senator said neither he nor his representatives spoke with Blagojevich or his representatives before Dec. 26. Lawyers representing Harris and Wyma denied their clients spoke with Lebed about Burris' interest in the seat.
Lebed accused Ruff at the time of being on a "witch-hunt" and fabricating that story after not being hired for Burris' senatorial communications staff in Washington, D.C.
But Ruff insisted that the only way to determine whether Burris lied about the circumstances of his appointment when appearing before an Illinois House impeachment panel was for prosecutors in Sangamon County and investigators overseeing a U.S. Senate ethics probe to zero in on Lebed.
"There is more to be discovered," Ruff told the Sun-Times. "I know the key to finding the information out is through Fred. That's the main point I wish to get across."
Both Ruff and Lebed have been interviewed by Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt as part of his still-ongoing perjury investigation.
Burris' office declined comment when informed of Ruff's death.
"John was honest yet irreverent," said Eileen Wixted, a consultant and longtime friend of Ruff's. "He believed no one was above the truth, period. The combination of his boldness and his uncanny ability to distill complicated matters is rare and refreshing. John will certainly be missed for his sense of humor and strategic mind."
Funeral arrangements for Ruff, a father of four children, were incomplete this afternoon.

Blago on Huckabee: 'Burris turned us down.' But did he?

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Blagojevich Ettinger

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich just told a national TV audience while appearing on Mike Huckabee's talk show tonight that Roland Burris refused to donate to Citizens for Blagojevich last year.
In defending his pick of Burris to succeed Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate, Blagojevich said Burris "turned us down," and didn't donate.
It's true Burris did not donate to Blagojevich's campaign fund in the final months of last year.
But how does the public know that the decision wasn't made for Burris?
The ex-governor was arrested on corruption charges -- including that he allegedly tried selling President Obama's Senate seat -- six days before Burris said he'd write a check to Blagojevich.
Burris' own lawyer said his client never called Blagojevich or his brother to tell them he refused to donate.
A refusal would be a change of heart from what's now become a very public Nov. 13 phone call where Burris is heard saying he would kick in money at a time that he sought the Senate seat appointment.
On a recently released recording between Burris and Blagojevich's brother, Robert, Burris can be heard promising to personally write a check by Dec. 15th of last year. Burris also can be heard saying he'd consider doing something in the name of Timothy Wright.
Wright, his law partner, has told the Sun-Times that following the Nov. 13 phone call, Burris asked him about holding a fund-raiser or making a Blagojevich contribution.
Wright said he told Burris he thought that was a terrible idea.
In a short interview on the conservative talk show, Blagojevich recited a prayer about mercy and invoked God's name on numerous occasions.
"I also believe God has a purpose for this," Blagojevich told Huckabee, who ran for president last year.
"I've been railroaded, I've been wronged," the ex-governor went on.
"I'm the anti-Nixon," he says, explaining he wants all the tapes regarding his discussions of the Senate seat made public.
"I think what you'll find is a governor who worked ALL the time for the people of Illinois," he said.

Patti Blagojevich initially offered to donate all the money she raises on her reality TV show to Bear Necessities.
One catch.
Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation is affiliated with Children's Memorial Hospital. Rod Blagojevich is accused of shaking down the Children's Memorial Hospital executive director for a $50,000 campaign contribution. According to charges, Blagojevich said he'd hold up state funding for Children's Memorial if he didn't get the money. So Bear Necessities said: thanks, but no thanks, to Patti.
"We're very flattered to be considered. Just because of the charges against the former governor in association with Children's we don't want to harm that relationship with them," Bear Necessities PR Director Courtney Krupa told me today.
Krupa said NBC approached them last Tuesday. The board took it up and turned it down. The foundation notified NBC Thursday, Krupa said.
Krupa said it was unfortunate that the foundation had to turn down the offer.
"It is (unfortunate) in a sense that it's a good opportunity for us for potential dollars coming in as well as public awareness for the organization," she said. "Our board felt that with everything going on and with the charges against the former governor with Children's we just want to be cautious because we don't want to harm relationships with supporters."

ADDENDUM from Patti's PR agency: When the men voted to give Patti Blagojevich immunity on 'I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here' children battling cancer and their families benefitted.

That's because the longer a celebrity stays on the NBC blockbuster summer program, the more money that goes to a celebrity's charity of choice. And Blagojevich, the wife of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, chose the Children's Cancer Center in Tampa.


For those who do want to donate to the pediatric cancer foundation, visit www.bearnecessities.org or call the general number 312-214-1200.

Here's the statement from Bear Necessities (not to be confused with Bare Necessities) on Patti Blagojevich:

Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation was recently approached by the producers of "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here" to be the official charity for former Illinois First Lady Patti Blagojevich. We were flattered to be considered for a high profile opportunity to raise money and awareness for Bear Necessities. However, we declined the opportunity because her husband, former Gov. Blagojevich, faces federal charges which include an alleged extortion of our partner, Children's Memorial Hospital. We wish the show and Mrs. Blagojevich the best of luck and appreciate the offer. However, our long time partnership with Children's has made great strides in fulfilling Bear's mission of curing the scourge of pediatric cancer and we would never want to do anything to harm that relationship.

The ethics watchdog group "Democracy 21" is calling on the Senate ethics committee to hold public hearings on the circumstances surrounding the appointment of U.S. Sen. Roland Burris.
Burris has been under fire since the Chicago Sun-Times revealed in February that Burris had discussions about fund-raising with Blagojevich that he did not disclose during testimony before an Illinois House impeachment panel. When the Sun-Times raised questions with Burris, he provided supplemental testimony that had not been made public.
The Sun-Times then first disclosed last week that Burris was on tape promising to send Rod Blagojevich a check by mid-December. Burris did not disclose this promise of money in the Feb. 4 supplemental testimony he submitted to state House leaders.

Here's the group's release.

"Democracy 21" Calls on Senate Ethics Committee to Conduct Prompt Public Hearings on Senator Burris Affair

In a letter sent today to Senate Ethics Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Republican Member Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer called on the Ethics Committee "to hold prompt public hearings on Senator Roland Burris and matters related to his appointment to the Senate."

The letter stated that Democracy 21 had previously sent a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee on February 24, 2009 calling for public hearings "in which Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) is called to testify on his contradictory and conflicting statements, made under oath, regarding the circumstances surrounding his appointment to the Senate."

The February 24 letter noted that published reports had indicated that Senator Burris "may have misrepresented his contacts and conversations with former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his associates" and "may have attempted to raise campaign contributions for the former Governor, in contradiction to his sworn testimony and public statements."

According to today's letter, "Recent published reports strongly confirm the need for the Committee to clear the air on this matter in a public setting. Citizens are entitled to a public accounting under oath by Senator Burris before the Senate Ethics Committee about what transpired regarding his appointment to the Senate. "Senate Ethics Committee rules provide that the Committee "may hold a public or executive hearing in any preliminary inquiry, adjudicatory review or other proceedings."

Senate Ethics Committee Rule 5(a). Thus, according to the February 24 and June 2 letters, "the Ethics Committee has explicit authority to hold an immediate public hearing on the Burris matter."

The June 2 letter states that "New reports published last week indicate that the concerns about whether Senator Burris was sworn in as a Senator under false pretenses may be well founded."

060209celeb.JPGBY PAIGE WISER

As Rod Blagojevich waits to find out if anyone will sell him down the river, his wife, Patti, was nearly swept away by a river in Costa Rica. She bravely took his place on "I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!" so their family would have some income -- and to raise money for a children's cancer charity.

On Monday night's premiere episode, Patti distinguished herself as one of the more sane contestants on the gross-out reality show. And no, there was no swearing. Not even as she chewed a tarantula. (It had a "musty, yeasty" flavor, she said.)

Patti did, however, pick up a few celebrity endorsements for her husband. Spencer Pratt, a fabricated villain for "The Hills," said that he would have voted for Rod for President. "I look at them as the Heidi and Spencer of politics," Spencer confided to the camera. Presumably, he meant it as a compliment.

On her first night on the show, Patti Blagojevich eats a tarantula.
She later breaks down crying.
But not because of her furry snack.
She had just talked about her husband's predicament and co-contestants Heidi and Spencer Pratt ask her to join them in prayer.
Patti lowered her head and wiped tears away as Heidi led the prayer aloud.
"You know the truth," Heidi Pratt says as the three of them hold hands.
Afterward, the camera cut to Patti who is talking through tears.
"When you hear your own hopes out loud, it's kind of touching," Patti says, keeping her tough Chicago voice steady, but crying.
Just before that, Patti Blagojevich talked about her husband's criminal case. She says he was railroaded, because he tried going around the legislature instead of working with it. She says she was fired because of the publicity and that Blago was impeached after he was unable to bring evidence at his trial held by the Senate (Blago's defense refused to participate).
"It was probably the worst...the worst six months of our lives," Patti Blagojevich says on national TV.
Spencer Pratt says he would have voted for Blago for governor.
"I look at them as the Heidi-Spencer of politics," Spencer Pratt says at one point.
Rod Blagojevich was indicted April 2 on charges he schemed to trade official action for campaign contributions. Among the charges was that he tried to sell President Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Patti in jungle: The wading is the hardest part.

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Ten minutes into Patti's foray into reality TV, viewers watch her get washed down the river. As her team (TEAM RED) tries wading through a fast-moving stream, Patti gets caught in a current and is suddenly submerged and moving quickly upstream. She tries grabbing a branch, but the force of the water pushes her along.
But not to worry, she floats into a lagoon. All is well. Except her drenched backpack.
Camera cuts to her and she says she can't take much more excitement for the day.
Nearly two hours to go.
What might be tougher to endure: Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt who are on Patti's team and are already snuggling.

Blago lawyers talk about Patti's reality TV stint

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Patti Blagojevich will appear live on a reality show tonight that's being filmed in Costa Rica.
But should the former first lady be here, in Illinois, assisting in her husband's criminal case?
"She has absolutely nothing to do with the trial," said Rod Blagojevich's lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky.
Sam Adam Jr. said Patti Blagojevich is doing what any woman should do when faced with an economic crisis in her family.
"That's what you have to do to feed your family," Adam said. Adam said Patti is doing the show to support her children. "Dignity is not in play," he added, because she's doing it to help her family. Both Patti Blagojevich and her husband are unemployed.
The show, "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here," offered to pay Rod Blagojevich up to $123,000 for a month's work. Patti has likely struck a similar deal.

Contributing: Tess Fardon

Blago trial could start in less than a year

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blagohome

A federal judge said today that he would like to start the former governor's trial as early as April 1 of next year.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel put lawyers on notice this morning that he'd like to start Rod Blagojevich's trial between April and July of next year.
"My preference is to begin it in April," Zagel said.
Prosecutors said their case in chief would take about three months.
"If that's what the judge orders I'll be ready," one defense lawyer, Sam Adam Jr., said of beginning the trial in less than a year.
Rod Blagojevich, and five others were indicted April 2 in a wide-ranging corruption scheme. The former governor is accused of using the state of Illinois as an enterprise to cash in personally while making official decisions. He's also accused of trying to sell President Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Zagel also seemed open to the idea of allowing a fourth defense attorney to come on the case. But Zagel asked defense lawyers to put that issue before him after they start going through evidence in the case.
Zagel also discussed the possibility of having an anonymous jury -- at least during the trial. Zagel said he's received letters and emails from the public dictating how he should rule in Blagojevich's case.
"I would not want members of the jury to be subjected," to that, Zagel said.
Sheldon Sorosky, another Blagojevich attorney, said that might be a "wise" decision.

Contributing: Tess Fardon

A new Web site promoting Patti Blagojevich JunglePatti.com has been launched, as the former first lady of Illinois prepares for her first live episode of "I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here," her PR firm just announced. The announcement comes hours before her husband's lawyers are to appear in court to discuss how they'll be paid to represent the ex-governor. Patti Blagojevich is appearing on the NBC program after a federal judge denied her husband's bid to do so. It is being filmed in Costa Rica.

Here's the intro written on her page:
Patti Blagojevich (pronounced Blah-go-yah-vich) is the wife of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Patti is a licensed real estate broker who owns her own real estate company. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in economics. She does not consider herself a celebrity. She is family woman who's a mother of two girls: 12-year-old Amy and 6-year-old Annie. After living politics with her husband for so many years, dodging snakes and other unsavory characters in the Costa Rican jungle may seem like a cakewalk. Votes for Patti mean money for charity! 'I'm a Celebrity...' premiers TONIGHT @ 8/7c!

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