Blagojevich, 5 others indicted

April 03, 2009|By Jeff Coen | Jeff Coen,Tribune Newspapers

CHICAGO -Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, his brother and a former top fundraiser were among six men indicted Thursday on political corruption charges, the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago announced.

In addition to the former governor, charged were his brother, Rob Blagojevich, 53; fundraiser Christopher Kelly, 50; Lon Monk, 50, a lobbyist and former Blagojevich chief of staff; John Harris, 47, another former chief of staff; and William Cellini, 74, a Springfield insider for decades.

The sweeping indictment comes four months after Rod Blagojevich, then the governor, was arrested and charged with engaging in pay-to-play politics in a federal complaint that accused him of trading state jobs, contracts and regulatory favors for campaign contributions.

The criminal complaint charged Blagojevich with attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama and seeking the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial writers in return for state help with the sale of Wrigley Field. The ballpark and newspaper are owned by Tribune Co., which also owns The Baltimore Sun.

While those allegations are repeated in Thursday's charges, the 19-count indictment includes allegations that convicted insider Antoin "Tony" Rezko steered real estate commissions to former first lady Patti Blagojevich despite her performing no work and paid cash to Monk for a car and home improvements. The indictment alleges that Rod Blagojevich attempted to extort a congressman for campaign cash by withholding a $2 million state grant to a public school in the congressman's district.

All told, the former governor faces 16 felony counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit extortion and lying to federal agents.

The federal government is seeking forfeiture of $188,370 from Blagojevich and will try to take his Ravenswood Manor home if need be.

"We're saddened but not surprised by the indictment" said Blagojevich's lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky. "Governor Blagojevich is innocent and will fight this in court."

The formal charges draw Blagojevich's family further into the scandal. While Patti Blagojevich was referred to in the indictment but not charged, the grand jury did indict his brother.

Rob Blagojevich took over as head of the governor's campaign fund in August, two months before federal authorities received court authorization to wiretap the governor's home phone and campaign office.

"We were hoping it wouldn't happen, but it did," said attorney Michael Ettinger, who represents Rob Blagojevich. "Now my client is looking forward to being vindicated at a trial. My client has said from the beginning that he was not doing anything outside the bounds of normal fundraising."

Ettinger was in Florida at Disney World with the former governor and their families. He said Rob Blagojevich was not with them.

Authorities have alleged that Harris tried to carry out the governor's plan to have Tribune editorial writers fired for writing editorials critical of Blagojevich. Cellini was indicted last fall on charges that he extorted a Hollywood producer to make a Blagojevich campaign donation. Monk was also heard on the recordings.

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