CHICAGO — — Federal prosecutors plan to bring a revised indictment against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich next month to avoid possible delays in their case due to a looming U.S. Supreme Court decision on one of their favorite weapons in public corruption cases, the U.S. attorney's office said Monday.
The high court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Tuesday on limiting the "honest services" fraud law, which criminalizes activity that deprives the public or the government of the right to have public officials perform their duties honestly.
The law has been a mainstay of federal public corruption cases, and prosecutors are relying on it for a number of the charges against Blagojevich. They have accused him of illegally leveraging the powers of his office to benefit himself.
In a court filing Monday, prosecutors said they will revise the charges against Blagojevich to avoid any complications that could delay the start of his scheduled June trial. Prosecutors said they would handle the honest services question in the new filing against the former governor, but plan to stick with the same basic allegations.
Among the charges against the former governor is that he sought something for himself - including perhaps a job - in exchange for his appointment of someone to fill the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.
"At this time, it is anticipated that any new charges would be based on the underlying conduct that currently encompasses the pending charges," Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar wrote in the court filing.
Blagojevich's defense had proposed moving the Blagojevich trial date back so that any impact from a Supreme Court decision on honest services could be absorbed.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel denied that request but asked the government to file a written response. Schar wrote that, at most, some of the counts against Blagojevich would be dropped if the high court severely limited the use of honest services.
Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam Jr. blasted the government's announcement.
"It seems to me they ripped a sitting governor out of his home and said he had conducted a crime spree that they had to stop, and now they're saying there isn't going to be any 'honest services' and they're going to charge him with something different," Adam said. "I haven't seen this much backpedaling since Gerald Wilkins got dunked on by Michael Jordan. Now we have to wait until January to find out what he really did?"
A different Chicago case is at the center of the Supreme Court appeal.
Conrad Black, the jailed newspaper executive, argues that he cannot be held guilty of honest-services fraud unless it can be shown he intended to do economic harm to Hollinger International, the company he once headed. It formerly owned the Chicago Sun-Times.
The high court will also hear arguments stemming from the case of a former Alaska legislator who says he cannot be found guilty of fraud for failing to disclose that he had sought work with an oil services firm before he left the legislature. He did not get a job with the firm, but he did cast a vote in favor of the firm's position on a tax bill.