Friday, April 3, 2009

Blagojevich Charged With 16 Corruption Felonies

The New York Times has an update on the Blago the Clown story:

By MONICA DAVEY and SUSAN SAULNY. Published: April 2, 2009
CHICAGO — Rod R. Blagojevich, the ousted governor of Illinois, used his chance to fill the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama as one more money-making plan in a vast racketeering scheme, federal prosecutors said Thursday, an operation they portrayed as the “Blagojevich Enterprise.” In a 19-count indictment, prosecutors said the “primary purpose of the Blagojevich Enterprise was to exercise and preserve power over the government of the State of Illinois for the financial and political benefit of” Mr. Blagojevich, his family and his friends.
Running 75 pages, the indictment had been expected for nearly four months, since Mr. Blagojevich was arrested. The former governor, a second-term Democrat whose political career has come apart, was charged with 16 felonies, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. Five of his closest advisers — his brother, one of his top fund-raisers, two of his former chiefs of staff and a Springfield businessman — were also charged with crimes.
Mr. Blagojevich, who was believed to be vacationing with his family near Walt Disney World in Florida when the indictment was announced here late Thursday, issued a statement through his publicist. “I’m saddened and hurt, but I am not surprised by the indictment,” he said. “I am innocent. I now will fight in the courts to clear my name.”
The indictment lays out a broad pattern of corruption spanning from before Mr. Blagojevich was elected governor in 2002 to the day of his arrest, Dec. 9. He used his official position, the indictment suggested, to seek financial gain in nearly every element of government work, from picking members of state commissions to signing legislation.
Mr. Blagojevich sought a return on deals to give money to a hospital, to approve legislation helpful to racetrack owners, to pick a particular candidate to fill the Senate seat and, according to the indictment, from a United States representative who was pressing for a $2 million grant for a publicly supported school.
The indictment describes the member of Congress as United States Congressman A, one of a series of unidentified public officials listed throughout the document only by letters of the alphabet. White House officials confirmed that Rahm Emanuel, a former House member who is President Obama’s chief of staff, was Congressman A.
In 2006, when Congressman A was making inquiries about the status of state grant money intended for the school, Mr. Blagojevich sent a message that a brother of the representative (apparently, officials said, Ari Emanuel, an agent in Hollywood) needed to have a fund-raiser for Mr. Blagojevich, the indictment says. Mr. Blagojevich told an employee not to release the grant money, already in the state’s budget, until the governor gave further notice. According to the indictment, the fund-raiser never occurred.
Then last year, the indictment says, Mr. Blagojevich seemed to envision multiple, varying plans for how he might secure money or win a high-paying job through his choice of who would fill Mr. Obama’s seat. Among them, the documents say, Mr. Blagojevich believed he might get $1.5 million in campaign contributions from an associate of one person, identified only as Senate Candidate A, who hoped to receive the appointment.
In December, at the time of Mr. Blagojevich’s arrest at his home on the North Side of Chicago, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said he had gone forward with a criminal complaint — not a formal indictment after a review of the case by a grand jury — because telephone calls intercepted by agents had forced the authorities to move quickly to stop what Mr. Fitzgerald described as a crime spree in progress. At that point, the Senate seat, now held by Roland W. Burris, was still vacant.
Some legal experts had suggested that Mr. Fitzgerald’s choice might signal that he did not yet have a prosecutable case in hand; some raised broader questions about the strength of his case and the difficult legal distinction between illegal acts and simply unseemly political talk.
But legal experts said that the scope of the indictment on Thursday showed no signs that prosecutors were backing away from their case.
“It weaves together all the series of acts we’ve all been hearing about,” said Leonard L. Cavise, a professor at the DePaul University College of Law who has expertise in criminal defense. “It’s broad ranging. It will be a very complex trial.”
Some of the most serious counts against Mr. Blagojevich carry prison sentences of as long as 20 years.

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