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

October 2009 Archives

The Lon Monk low-down

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Lon Monk's guilty plea Tuesday ramps up the pressure on Rod Blagojevich.
From the Sun-Times today: Blagojevich has repeatedly sought to distance himself from Tony Rezko, essentially claiming that Rezko duped him. Monk's plea not only puts the two in the same room, but it also alleges that Blagojevich gave both Rezko and Kelly free rein over his administration. Monk "understood that Blagojevich and [Monk] would use their power and authority in state government as needed to assist whatever plans Rezko and Kelly put in place to make money," the plea states.

From the Chicago Tribune: Pulling back the curtain on how Blagojevich and his cohorts allegedly went about their plan, Monk's plea suggests a possible pattern of political crimes that took place well before Blagojevich allegedly offered the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama to the highest bidder. As part of his deal, Monk told prosecutors that he, Blagojevich and key fundraisers Antoin "Tony" Rezko and Christopher Kelly repeatedly met about how the four of them could secretly make money through state deals, offering the most specific account yet of how the alleged conspiracy in the case formed.

From AP: The plea is guaranteed to be a blow to Blagojevich, who is scheduled to stand trial starting June 3 on corruption charges that included allegedly trying to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat President Barack Obama held.

A lawyer for ex-governor Rod Blagojevich deemed a slew of allegations leveled by onetime top aide Lon Monk: "one-thousand percent false."
In a plea deal made public today, Monk, 51, said there was an ongoing agreement among Blagojevich and his closest advisers that involved making hundreds of thousands of dollars off state business deals.
The money would be split four ways, according to Monk. The alleged recipients: Blagojevich, the now-deceased fund-raiser Christopher Kelly, convicted businessman Tony Rezko and Monk.
"That is completely false. One-thousand percent false," Sheldon Sorosky told the Sun-Times. "Blagojevich never participated in any deal or conference where he'd receive a kickback from any investments or any money that Rezko and Kelly made -- from the state or otherwise."

In a major victory for federal prosecutors, a longtime friend and ex-chief of staff to Rod Blagojevich said today he was an eyewitness to a litany of corruption under the former governor in a deal that pledges his cooperation in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Lon Monk, 51, of Decatur, said in his plea agreement that during the ex-governor's first term in office, there was an ongoing agreement among Blagojevich's closest advisers involving making tens of thousands of dollars off of state business.

The money would be split four ways, according to the plea. The alleged recipients: Blagojevich, the now-deceased Christopher Kelly, convicted businessman Tony Rezko and Monk.

Monk admitted to knowing about a variety of alleged schemes, but pleaded guilty to just one charge -- that he schemed with the ex-governor to shake down a racetrack businessman for a $100,000 campaign contribution in exchange for the governor's signature on a pending piece of legislation that would benefit horse racing in Illinois. Some of the conversations related to the scheme were caught on tape, according to the plea.

Rod Blagojevich's onetime top aide Lon Monk to plead guilty

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He was charged in just one count in a wide-reaching corruption case, but Rod Blagojevich's former chief of staff is expected to be a key government witness against his old boss -- and friend.
Lon Monk is slotted to plead guilty this morning in federal court, his lawyer said.
Monk's plea deal has been pending for months and was rescheduled at least twice.
Reached Monday, Monk's lawyer had no comment when asked if negotiations with the government were jammed up over the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to take up three cases that challenge the government's use of the honest services statute.
Monk's one charge is predicated on that statute. However, he's also mentioned elsewhere in the indictment.
Monk's cooperation is significant because he is a longtime, close friend of Blagojevich. The two were law school roommates and Monk was close to Blagojevich during both gubernatorial terms, either as a top aide or working for Blagojevich's campaign fund.
The Sun-Times first reported that the feds had tapped Monk's cell phone last year and secretly recorded numerous conversations.
That included a conversation between Monk and the ex-governor about an alleged shakedown of a horse-racing executive.
Even as a lobbyist, Monk was intensely involved in helping the ex-governor raise campaign cash up until the final months of 2008.

Rod Blagojevich's lawyer lashed out in a fiery diatribe this afternoon after prosecutors complained about his upcoming appearance on "Celebrity Apprentice."
Prosecutors in court said Blagojevich has discussed evidence in the case on TV and has misstated evidence. They didn't ask the judge to bar Blagojevich but raised issues about what the ex-governor might say on TV. U.S. District Judge James Zagel shared those concerns and asked the two sides to talk.
"This is a little mystifying. This is the first time I have ever heard of a
law enforcement official coming into court and saying: "Judge shut the
defendant up,'" Blagojevich's lawyer, Sam Adam Jr. said.
Adam went on a tirade about the government -- at one point bringing up
Guantanamo Bay tactics -- saying prosecutors had their press conference
after Blagojevich's arrest, but are trying to keep him from responding to
their charges.
The remarks came shortly after Zagel said he worried about
confessionals on the reality TV show and whether Blagojevich could complicate his own trial by speaking out of turn.
Zagel said it wasn't his job to worry about Blagojevich implicating himself, but feared the former governor could make remarks that would affect "the administration of the trial."
Zagel told both sides to talk and said nothing of blocking Blago's appearance.
Adam said he'd abide by any ruling, but said it was curious that prosecutors were trying to curb Blagojevich's speech.
"Give me a good, solid reason why a law enforcement official ... would want
him to shut up now," Adam said. "Because he's telling the truth. When he
comes out and says "I didn't do it,' he's telling the truth."
"Be quiet Mr. Blagojevich, you actually have an audience," Adam said,
mimicking the government. "You don't agree with what we've said in this, we
need you to shut up.'"
"We watched all these things that happened down in Guantanamo,"Adam
continued. "We've seen all the things over the years that have happened in
this country ...
Is that what we are left to? When you take an elected official, a governor,
rip him from his family at 6 o'clock in the morning and then say he did all
these things but you can't answer it? Is that really where we are?"


The Chicago Sun-Times reports today that the president of a topless bar was among those on a clout list who appeared to get people hired during Rod Blagojevich's administration.
Perry Mandera, of Glenview, was listed among clout-heavy political sponsors in a secret hiring database obtained by the Sun-Times.
Mandera's name was linked to 10 job candidates.
Four of the people on Mandera's list wound up getting state jobs, the records show.
Mandera, the president of a company that owns VIP's A Gentlemen's Club, a topless bar on the Near North Side, said he knew of no such list.
"I have no knowledge of what you're talking about," Mandera told a Sun-Times reporter. "This is the first time I'm hearing about this."

The Mandera report was the third report in a series about patronage under Blagojevich.
The first report indicated that Blagojevich ordered a hiring freeze while in state office, but, behind the scenes, "flouted the supposed freeze, forging a patronage machine that -- despite their boss' public promises -- eventually would provide state jobs or promotions to nearly 2,500 people with enough clout to have political sponsors."
On Sunday, the Sun-Times reported that the same lawmakers who forced the ex-governor's ouster, once begged him for jobs.

Blagojevich's "Celebrity Apprentice" bid may be decided today

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Will a federal judge let Rod Blagojevich appear on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Appearance?"
Lawyers for Rod Blagojevich will be in court today to argue that the former governor shouldn't be barred from Donald Trump's reality show.
Prosecutors are expected to challenge the former governor's appearance on the series, which is being filmed now but won't be aired until March.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel barred Blagojevich from appearing on the Costa Rican set of "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here," earlier this year.
"I don't think this defendant in all honesty ... fully understands the position he finds himself in," Zagel said at the time.
Zagel held that authority because he would have had to grant the ex-governor special permission to travel outside the country. (Former First Lady of Illinois, Patti Blagojevich, went in her husband's stead.)
It's unclear what legal blockade could be used to bar Blagojevich. He's free to travel throughout the United States and his lawyers will likely argue he needs to work. He was ousted from his post as governor in January. He will be a paid contestant on the show, sources have told the Sun-Times.
Prosecutors will likely argue that the March airing could taint the potential jury pool for Blagojevich's June trial, sources said.

The former governor, who has been in New York for the taping, is not expected to be in Chicago's federal courthouse today.


Federal prosecutors on Monday are expected to raise concerns over Rod Blagojevich's slotted appearance on Donald Trump's reality show: "Celebrity Apprentice."
At issue is the March airing of the show, which is just months before jury seating is to begin in the former governor's criminal trial, sources said.
The corruption trial is set to begin in June.
Since his December arrest, Blagojevich has embarked on a media bonanza, including releasing a personal memoir and going on a coast-to-coast book tour. Blagojevich has appeared on the "Daily Show," David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel, to name a few.
So why the concern now?
"Celebrity Apprentice" doesn't air until next spring, so prosecutors are likely complain there's a possibility of tainting the jury pool, sources said. Blagojevich will reportedly join Cyndi Lauper and Sharon Osbourne, among others.
The matter will be before U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who denied Blagojevich's bid to travel to Costa Rica earlier this year. Blagojevich wasn't allowed to travel out of the country. Zagel also encouraged Blagojevich to instead focus on his criminal trial.
Patti Blagojevich took her husband's spot on the show instead.
Blagojevich, who is being paid to be a contestant on Trump's NBC show, has been in New York this week to begin filming the reality series.
A U.S. Attorney spokesman had no comment.

1-2 podgo blago 3.JPG

By taking up the case of Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling, the U.S. Supreme Court signaled Tuesday it is on a clear path to tackle the amorphous "honest services" statute, something that could impact Rod Blagojevich's upcoming trial.

The lawyer for Rod Blagojevich's brother, Robert Blagojevich, told the Chicago Sun-Times he thinks the statute "is going to be shredded," possibly resulting in a trial delay or new charges against his client.

Robert and Rod Blagojevich were indicted together April 2.
Honest services makes up a good chunk of Blagojevich's indictment. The only two charges against Robert Blagojevich are rooted in alleged honest services fraud.
"Blagojevich has traveled across the country proclaiming his innocence," writes Chicago Tribune columnist Greg Burns today. "Maybe his next stop should be on the steps of the Supreme Court."

It's the third honest services case the high court has taken up (the others are that of media baron Conrad Black and an Alaskan state lawmaker). Lawyers see that as a sign that justices are out to better define a statute often criticized as vague. The law says one can be found to have deprived a company or taxpayers of his or her honest services even if there was no financial loss -- or personal gain. But just when that line is crossed is open to interpretation.

In today's New York Times, Adam Liptak reminds us it was a Chicago case that propelled justices to take another look at the statute.
The high court in February refused to take up the case of patronage chief Robert Sorich. Sorich and others were convicted of denying Illinois taxpayers their honest services by fostering City Hall's patronage system even though Sorich didn't make any money off the deal. The case drew a strong rebuke from Justice Antonin Scalia who wrote: "It is one thing to enact and enforce clear rules against certain types of corrupt behavior ... but quite another to mandate a freestanding, open-ended duty to provide honest services -- with the details to be worked out case-by-case."


U.S. Sen. Roland Burris is still on the hot seat. The Chicago Sun-Times reports a congressional panel was querying state lawmakers about Burris' testimony before a state House panel. The questioning of the senator appointed by Rod Blagojevich came about one month after the Chicago Democrat announced he wouldn't run for a full term in 2010.

For more background on Burris happenings, click here.

Listen to the secretly recorded phone call between Burris and Robert Blagojevich, the ex-governor's fund-raising chief.


Rod Blagojevich has made money off of Donald Trump before he ever signed on to "Celebrity Apprentice."
Trump has donated $9,000 in campaign contributions the indicted ex-Illinois governor since 2002. The billionaire's most recent donation of $2,000 came in 2007.
The Sun-Times had the scoop online yesterday. Blagojevich is expected to begin filming the reality TV show later this month.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump vs. Rod Blagojevich.
It could be the hair battle to end all hair battles.
And it's expected to play out soon on national television because the onetime governor is expected to be a contestant on Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice."
The mega-rich developer is famous for telling contestants: "you're fired."
But that isn't anything the indicted Blagojevich hasn't heard before.
The former governor was booted from his seat by the Illinois legislature last January.
Now he's looking for ways to make money.
This time, he'll go head to head with Trump in a boardroom.
Sources tell the Chicago Sun-Times that Blagojevich, who will be paid for his appearance, will begin filming later this month and it could take three weeks or more.
Like most reality TV shows, Blagojevich stays on as a guest until he gets canned, in this case, by Trump.
Blagojevich's PR agent, Glenn Selig, would not comment.
"We don't comment on rumors or projects or anything we don't have an announcement about," Selig said.
A Trump spokeswoman also had no comment.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge James Zagel denied the ousted governor's bid to travel to Costa Rica and star in a different reality show.
Zagel said Blagojevich was better off tending to his criminal case.
His wife, Patti Blagojevich, went on instead. She gobbled down a tarantula and was among the last ones standing in "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here."
Because "Celebrity Apprentice" is filmed in the United States, the former governor won't need the judge's OK to travel.

Blagojevich Ettinger

Rod Blagojevich's friend Lon Monk postpones plea -- again

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A longtime friend, onetime fund-raiser and ex-chief of staff to Rod Blagojevich has once again postponed pleading guilty in the corruption case of the former governor.
Plans are off for a guilty plea tomorrow by Lon Monk, whose cell phone was among those tapped in the probe of the ex-governor.
Monk's new plea date is now Oct. 20.
It's at least the third time the lobbyist's plea has been rescheduled.
But that's not because talks are falling apart, sources insist. They say small issues keep cropping up, including ones that are simply logistical.
Monk was indicted on a single count of wire fraud. He's a longtime friend of Blagojevich who is expected to act as a witness at the trial scheduled for next June.

Patti Blagojevich files defamation lawsuit

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Patti Blagojevich is taking aim at her former employer, filing a defamation lawsuit against a top official for allegedly making defaming remarks to a newspaper columnist.
Mrs. Blagojevich filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court charging that Rick Roberts, the senior director of strategy and communications for the Chicago Christian Industrial League, made defaming remarks about her by claiming she inappropriately took an internal email list from the group when she was fired in January.
Roberts made the remarks two weeks ago initially to columnist Michael Sneed. He then repeated them the next day in the Chicago Tribune.
Roberts called Patti Blagojevich "unethical," saying she used the email contacts to try selling her husband's new book.
Patti Blagojevich later told the Sun-Times that it was Roberts who was inappropriate; she said she dumped her own email list into the league's database to help bolster fund-raising.
"The galling thing about this is before I got to CCIL -- there was no e-mail list. They had no e-mail outreach at all," she told the Sun-Times in a Sept. 18 story. "I dumped all my contacts of all my friends. . . . Their list is my list."
Roberts could not be immediately reached for comment.

This is from the Patti Blagojevich and Rod Blagojevich's PR group.

(PRNewsChannel) / Chicago, Ill. / Less than two weeks after being accused by her former employer--a charity--of inappropriately taking its 'proprietary' donor list and then using it to promote her husband's new book, former Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich fought back today by suing for defamation.

The lawsuit, filed this morning in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., names Richard Roberts, the senior director of strategy and communications for the Chicago Christian Industrial League (CCIL) as the defendant.

According to the lawsuit, Roberts falsely accused the former first lady of stealing CCIL's donor list.

But according to the suit, CCIL never maintained an email list of donors for purposes of outreach. The suit says Mrs. Blagojevich created her own list building on her personal Outlook contacts.

When her husband was arrested, Mrs. Blagojevich was abruptly fired.

The complaint alleges that Roberts made false accusations to 'Chicago Sun-Times' columnist Michael Sneed, who then published the statements in a column on September 17, 2009.

The suit does not name the 'Chicago Sun-Times,' Sneed or the charity itself as defendants.

"There is no easier way to attract media attention and generate free publicity than to make false accusations against a person whose life is the focus of constant public attention and scrutiny," says Jay Edelson of KamberEdelson, the lead attorney in this suit. "Hopefully, this will send the message that making false statements against Patti or Rod Blagojevich will not go unanswered."

KamberEdelson LLC. has been handling the defense of various civil actions filed against the former governor of Illinois following his removal from office.

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