The Chicago Syndicate: Rod Blagojevich
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Showing posts with label Rod Blagojevich. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rod Blagojevich. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

The House That Madigan Built: The Record Run of Illinois' Velvet Hammer

Michael Madigan rose from the Chicago machine to hold unprecedented power as Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. In his thirty-six years wielding the gavel, Madigan outlasted governors, passed or blocked legislation at will, and outmaneuvered virtually every attempt to limit his reach.

Veteran reporter Ray Long draws on four decades of observing state government to provide the definitive political analysis of Michael Madigan. Secretive, intimidating, shrewd, power-hungry--Madigan mesmerized his admirers and often left his opponents too beaten down to oppose him. Long vividly recreates the battles that defined the Madigan era, from stunning James Thompson with a lightning-strike tax increase, to pressing for a pension overhaul that ultimately failed in the courts, to steering the House toward the Rod Blagojevich impeachment.

Long also shines a light on the machinery that kept the Speaker in power. Head of a patronage army, Madigan ruthlessly used his influence and fundraising prowess to reward loyalists and aid his daughter’s electoral fortunes. At the same time, he reshaped bills to guarantee he and his Democratic troops shared in the partisan spoils of his legislative victories. Yet Madigan’s position as the state’s seemingly invulnerable power broker could not survive scandals among his close associates and the widespread belief that his time as Speaker had finally reached its end.

Unsparing and authoritative, The House That Madigan Built, is the page-turning account of one the most powerful politicians in Illinois history.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

The DOJ, @TheJusticeDep, is Investigating a Bribery Conspiracy to Buy a Presidential Pardon

U.S. prosecutors are investigating whether several individuals offered political contributions in exchange for a presidential pardon, according to an unsealed court document.

The names of the people under investigation were blacked out in the document.

The disclosure of an alleged attempt to purchase a pardon comes as Donald Trump’s presidential term winds to an end, traditionally a time when pardons are meted out. Trump’s prior pardons have stirred controversy, including his decision to grant them to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Last week, Trump announced that he was pardoning former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The partially redacted opinion unsealed on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington said the Justice Department was investigating a “bribery conspiracy” in which an unidentified person would “offer a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence.”

The Justice Department was also investigating whether two unnamed individuals had acted as lobbyists to White House officials without complying with registration requirements, Howell, the court’s chief judge, wrote.

The opinion, dated Aug. 28, was in response to a government request to review attorney-client communications related to the probe. The judge wrote that the scheme involved “intermediaries to deliver the proposed bribe,” and noted that the government hoped to present the evidence it had gathered to three unnamed individuals, at least one of whom is a lawyer.

Howell’s opinion provides few other details about the possible bribery scheme, and no one appears to have been charged as part of the investigation. But, according to the opinion, the person seeking a pardon surrendered to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, suggesting that person has already been convicted of a crime.

“The $10,000 question is — who is it?,” said former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers. “Is it someone who would be in a position to implicate the president in anything?”

She said she didn’t think that was necessarily the case because President Donald Trump has proven himself eager to help out the people closest to him — or those who pose a possible threat — so no bribe would be necessary.

No government official was or is currently a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in the court filing, a Justice Department official said.

The origins of the probe appear to lie in a separate investigation that the Justice Department was pursuing before it unearthed evidence of bribery.

Using search warrants issued in that separate inquiry, the government seized more than 50 “digital media devices,” including iPhones, iPads, laptops, thumb drives and computer and external hard drives, according to Howell’s opinion. Emails recorded on those devices provided evidence of the bribery scheme, the judge said.

The government asked Howell to allow investigators to access communications that might be shielded from scrutiny by attorney-client privilege. In the unsealed opinion, Howell agreed to allow the government to examine those communications, ruling that the documents at issue are “not protected by the attorney-client or any other privilege.”

“This political strategy to obtain a presidential pardon was ‘parallel’ to and distinct from [redacted’s] role as an attorney-advocate for [redacted],” the judge wrote.

Offering pardons for campaign contributions would be a crime, said Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor in New York. “While the presidential pardon power is absolute, selling pardons is prohibited by federal bribery law,” Sandick said in an interview. “This investigation may well linger into the next administration.”

Trump has pardoned or commuted the sentences of 45 people since taking office, fewer than his predecessors.

Since the election, lawyers and lobbyists across the country have mobilized on behalf of a wide range of clients to secure pardons. On Nov. 25, Trump pardoned Flynn, who has twice pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. Many more pardons are expected in the coming weeks. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani discussed with him as recently as last week the possibility of receiving a pre-emptive pardon before Trump leaves office.

Thanks to David Yaffe-Bellany and Erik Larson with Chris Strohm.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Rod Blagojevich Officially Disbarred by Illinois Supreme Court After President Trump Commutes the Prison Sentence for Attempting to Sell President Obama's Former Senate Seat

The Illinois Supreme Court officially disbarred former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, two months after a state panel recommended that the disgraced politician lose his law license.

The court's decision was hardly a surprise and Blagojevich, whose license was suspended indefinitely after his 2008 arrest, did not fight to regain it. He didn't attend a March hearing about the matter before the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, and he suggested afterward that he had no intention of practicing law again.

“Imagine yourself sitting on a plane and then the pilot announces before takeoff that he hasn’t flown in 25 years,” Blagojevich said. “Wouldn’t you want to get off that plane? I don’t want to hurt anybody.”

During that hearing, which came days after President Donald Trump commuted his 14-year sentence, the commission panel heard evidence that led to Blagojevich's convictions for a host of felony charges, including that he tried to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama and that he tried to shake down a children's hospital CEO and racetrack owner.

Since his release from prison, the 63-year-old Blagojevich has earned money from a website where customers pay for personalized video tributes from celebrities. And earlier this month, he signed on to host a podcast put out by WLS-AM radio in Chicago called “The Lightning Rod.” Blagojevich said in announcing the show that he was “fired up” to speak his mind and share what he's “learned from the school of hard knocks.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Only in Chicago: How the Rod Blagojevich Scandal Engulfed Illinois and Enthralled the Nation

The city of Chicago, the state of Illinois, and the nation at large were captivated by the arrest, trial, and general public embarrassment of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. Shortly after Blagojevich's arrest in December 2008, award-winning Chicago Sun-Times federal courts reporter Natasha Korecki began writing "The Blago Blog" to capture the seemingly endless stream of surreal moments, shady political maneuvers, and salty sound bites emanating from the embattled governor, who was accused of trying to sell President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat, among many other acts in what prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald called Blagojevich's "political corruption crime spree."

Only in Chicago: How the Rod Blagojevich Scandal Engulfed Illinois and Enthralled the Nation, is derived from the best of Korecki's work on the Blagojevich scandal, weaving together years of reporting as well as never-before published details into one straightforward, fast-paced narrative. From the infamous audio tapes released of Blagojevich to the strange public relations campaign he and his wife, Patti, waged throughout the trial, this is one of the most bizarre true political tales ever told. In many people's minds, there was an unprecedented degree of obliviousness to the part played by the eventually impeached Illinois governor, especially given the explicit and seemingly damning audio evidence released to the public.

Korecki's reporting reveals inside information from the arrest, trial, and sentencing. Interviews with Blagojevich, his wife, and countless other sources offer lucid insight to this often baffling, frequently humorous, and occasionally tragic epic. Also embroiled in this scandal were some of the most infamous players in Chicago and Illinois's sordid political scene. But beyond the slew of backroom deal-makers who were sucked into the Blagojevich imbroglio, many Illinois Democratic leaders felt the scandal's toxic fallout seep dangerously near. President Barack Obama himself, while never accused of any wrongdoing, was interviewed by federal prosecutors, and union leader Tom Balanoff claimed Obama called him the day before he was to be elected president, giving him the green light to talk to Blagojevich about Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett's potential appointment to his Senate seat. Only in Chicago includes details about now-mayor Rahm Emanuel's discussions with Blagojevich as well. But the other powerful political figure who became most entangled with the scandal was since-resigned Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who is accused of offering Blagojevich $6 million for the Senate seat through an intermediary. The investigation was colored by the revelation that Jackson's mysterious months-long medical leave was due to his reported in-patient treatment at the Mayo Clinic for bipolar disorder.

Only in Chicago: How the Rod Blagojevich Scandal Engulfed Illinois and Enthralled the Nation, is filled with incredible details from inside and outside the courtroom. Korecki is the authoritative voice on all things Blagojevich, having followed and reported on the story from its very beginning. Her story is focused and engrossing, and this book will prove to be one of the most important—and entertaining—accounts of this indelible scandal ever written.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ditch the Al Capone Shirt and take The Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

Paul Dailing was fed up with the folksy and unaffected way people talk about Chicago corruption—think Al Capone T-shirts and the bemused smirk as people shrug and say, “That’s the Chicago way.”

The reality is corruption in Chicago has ruined untold numbers of lives and led to the untimely end of many of them. To remind people of this reality, albeit in an enlightening and entertaining way, Dailing combined his experience as a newspaper reporter, a journalism professor, and a riverboat tour guide to create a unique walking tour about political corruption in Chicago and Illinois.

“People don’t realize the actual cost of all of this,” Dailing says. “I want them to know that even though people love Richard J. Daley, if you were black, he wasn’t a great mayor. If you were gay, or a woman, or poor, or a hippie, or just not his friend, he was terrible. This stuff gets romanticized for some lousy reason.”

The Chicago Corruption Walking Tour begins aptly outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center, moving north with stops at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, the Marquette Building, Thompson Center, one of our excessively expensive parking meters, a ritzy strip of River North that’s somehow in a tax increment finance, or TIF, district, and other downtown places to highlight key moments of unscrupulous power moves. Even people who’ve lived in Chicago their whole lives will learn something, Dailing promises.

“Capone’s men chased Octavius Granady [a black aldermanic candidate] through two wards before shooting him to death,” he says. “That was among the more disturbing stories I found while researching for the tour.”

Dailing’s topics range from seemingly outrageous (former mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson threatening the king of England, the Chicago Outfit gangsters who also were aldermen) to all-too-familiar stories, like which four of our governors went to prison and which others were just criminally charged. He even uses maps to illustrate the most egregious examples of gerrymandering—like in the 4th district, where a stretch of highway where no one lives somehow connects two distinct areas.

Tours start Sunday, May 1, and spots can be reserved online. A mile-long tour is available for $15 and the full 2.25-mile tour costs $25. Half of the tour revenue goes to City Bureau, an organization that trains young journalists covering the south and west sides to create meaningful journalism that is published in local and national outlets (including this one).

One of the running themes throughout the tour is that it’s not always clear who’s bad and who’s good—"It’s a fluid issue,” Dailing says. Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, for example, may have sent disgraced former governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich to prison, but he also threw reporters in jail during the Scooter Libby/Valerie Plame affair.

“I think Otto Kerner was a great governor, except for the fact that he took bribes,” Dailing adds. “The Kerner Commission report delved into the race riots, and it was the first time the U.S. government admitted social inequality is a real thing.”

It gets even murkier at the turn of the century when 1st ward aldermen Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna and John “Bathhouse John” Coughlin came to power. While they helped poor citizens find better jobs and services, they also gave people free drinks at a bar in exchange for votes and used their influence to line their own pockets.

“They were basically scumbags for the people,” Dailing says. “But guys like Hinky Dink and Bathhouse also made things difficult for people who didn’t fall in line and vote the way they were told. Buying beers for votes is cute, but I try to show this in terms of a larger picture where things get worse, and suddenly these people aren’t so cute.”

Dailing says he hopes people leave the tour a little angry, a little more skeptical, but ultimately more aware of the extent to which corruption shaped Chicago and Illinois. “I don’t want people to leave this thinking it’s a hopeless situation,” Dailing says. “We know these stories because these people failed. The patronage system has been whittled down from the height of where it was, same with the Chicago Outfit. People are wising up that TIFs are bad politics.”

Political satire shows like The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee are popular even though they point out sad-but-true aspects of the way the world works. With that in mind, Dailing hopes people enjoy the tour but also are upset enough to get more involved with local political processes.

“I do want people to be pissed off and to want to do something about it,” he says. “I also want people to have a different Chicago experience. It’s OK to marvel at how tall the Sears Tower is, but we have more to talk about here.

“And screw all the romanticizing of Al Capone. We don’t need an unhinged gangster killer on T-shirts.”

Thanks to Benjamin Feldheim.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Read #Golden by @JeffCoen and @ChaseJohn to learn how How Rod Blagojevich Talked Himself out of the Governor's Office and into Prison

No one did political corruption quite like Rod Blagojevich. The 40th governor of Illinois made international headlines in 2008 when he was roused from his bed and arrested by the FBI at his Chicago home. He was accused of running the state government as a criminal racket and, most shockingly, caught on tape trying to barter away President-elect Barack Obama’s US Senate seat. Most politicians would hunker down, stay quiet, and fight the federal case against them. But as he had done for years, Rod Blagojevich proved he was no ordinary politician. Instead, he fueled the headlines, proclaiming his innocence on seemingly every national talk show and street corner he could find.

Revealing evidence from the investigation never before made public, Golden: How Rod Blagojevich Talked Himself out of the Governor's Office and into Prison, is the most complete telling yet of the Blagojevich story, written by two Chicago reporters who covered every step of his rise and fall and spent years sifting through evidence, compiling documents, and conducting more than a hundred interviews with those who have known Blagojevich from his childhood to his time in the governor’s office. Dispensing with sensationalism to present the facts about one of the nation’s most notorious politicians, the authors detail the mechanics of the corruption that brought the governor down and profile a fascinating and frustrating character who embodies much of what is wrong with modern politics. With Blagojevich now serving 14 years in prison, the time has come for the last word on who Blagojevich was, how he was elected, how he got himself into trouble, and how the feds took him down.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Top Ten Messages Left On Rod Blagojevich's Answering Machine

10.Hey, it's Conrad Murray. 14 years? I didn't get that for murder
9.This is your hairstylist. Make sure to condition after each delousing
8.Do you want the cell closer to the espresso machine or jacuzzi?
7.Congratulations, I hear you're going to Vail. Wait, nevermind
6.Hey, it's your cell mate. Do you like the top or bottom?
5.Sorry, I must have the wrong number. I was trying to reach Todd Blagojevich
4.Hey, it's Dave. Tonight's Top Ten List is about you. Nice work
3.It's 2011, why do you still have an answering machine?
2.This is President Obama. I'm granting you a full pardon. Nah, I'm just screwing with you
1.It's the warden. The inmates are asking how much you want for your seat

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Widow of Mob Associate Linked to Illinois State Senator, James DeLeo

Illinois state Sen. James DeLeo (D-Chicago) -- who has made public statements questioning the existence of the Chicago mob -- was credited by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office with trying to help the widow of one of Chicago's most infamous slain mobsters.

The Northwest Side lawmaker is listed in a secret hiring database the then-governor's aides kept as the political sponsor for Anne Spilotro, the widow of murdered mob associate Michael Spilotro.

She's among 146 "recommended" job candidates linked to DeLeo by Blagojevich's office, though it isn't clear for what job.

Thirty-nine of them wound up being hired or promoted, according to the records, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, making DeLeo one of the top go-to guys at the Statehouse for jobs inside the Blagojevich administration.

"There's names on there I've never recognized," DeLeo said when shown copies of the job lists bearing his name. "I don't even know where they came from, who hired them. I have no idea who most of those people are.

"It makes me angry people's names are on a list with my name coded in there [and] that I don't even recognize any these names."

DeLeo said he knew Anne Spilotro but had no idea why she was on his jobs list. "Would I remember that name? Would I remember that name?" DeLeo repeated. "I'd remember that name. I would remember that name."

Michael Spilotro's brother, Anthony Spilotro, was once the Chicago crime syndicate's Las Vegas boss. The bodies of the brothers were found buried in a shallow grave in an Indiana cornfield after they were beaten to death in a 1986 mob hit.

In 2007, Anne Spilotro testified in the landmark Operation Family Secrets mob trial that she felt ripped off by DeLeo and another investor who bought her business in the late 1980s, after her husband was killed.

Spilotro, an employee of the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation since 1998, said she never discussed changing jobs or a promotion with DeLeo. "I haven't even talked to him for years," she said.

Another name on DeLeo's jobs list is the daughter of Marty Gutilla, managing partner of Tavern on Rush, the bar DeLeo co-owns with Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and others.

Shauna Gutilla Kelley, a $99,924-a-year division head for the Illinois Commerce Commission, was hired by Blagojevich's administration in August 2003. Since then, her salary has risen 59 percent, state records show.

DeLeo denied persuading Blagojevich's administration to hire or promote her -- though he acknowledged recommending Kelley for a state job "two administrations ago," under now-imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan.

Thanks to Dave McKinney

Sunday, July 12, 2009

City of Chicago Squeezes Widow of Man Squeezed by The Chicago Outfit

Whether the name of Richie Urso ever makes it into the corruption trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich next June is anybody's guess.

You've probably never heard of Richie Urso. But the FBI sure has heard of him.

His is a classic Chicago story, about a beefy yet charming guy born on Grand Avenue, who got in trouble with the law as a kid, only to make political friends and become extremely wealthy.

He was arrested once for jewelry theft in the '60s by the Outfit's top Chicago police detective, William Hanhardt. Urso's alleged partner in the theft was the mob enforcer Frankie Cullotta, who later became the technical adviser for the movie "Casino." The charges against Urso went away. Like I said, it's a Chicago story.

Richie went from the trucking business into real estate, dropping thousands of dollars in contributions to politicians like Mayor Richard Daley and former Gov. Dead Meat. He hung around with bankers, real estate players, insiders at the Cook County Board of (Tax) Review, at Mart Anthony's Restaurant on Randolph Street.

He was worth millions in real estate. He was also the victim of an Outfit shakedown that figured in the FBI's landmark Family Secrets case against top mob bosses.

Now the FBI is going through his business, interested in his associates, including former Mutual Bank of Harvey boss Amrish Mahajan, who has dropped off the political map. Though not charged, Uncle Amrish is under investigation as a top Blagojevich fundraiser. "My husband was excited because he was supposed to go with Amrish and Daley on a trip to India," said Richie's wife, Joanne Urso, recalling what she told federal investigators. "They were all going to go together. But then he died."

Daley and his wife, Maggie, made the trip with a Chicago business delegation.

Amrish Mahajan was a political connection for Daley, Blagojevich and other politicians to the Indian community. His wife, Anita, said, "He did not go on the trip with the mayor."

Anita -- charged with bilking the state out of millions of dollars in phony drug tests -- said her husband was in India, and unreachable.

After Richie's death in 2003, lenders called in their notes. Lawyers demanded big fees. The will that he told Joanne was stashed in a Mutual Bank safe deposit box was never found. And Daley's City Hall, which had never given Richie much trouble, suddenly slapped Joanne with a series of citations on their properties.

City Hall is also demanding she sell Richie's prized 24-acre site just west of the Cook County Jail for millions less than she says it's worth. Ald. George Cardenas (12th) is demanding the site for a park. "I'm getting ripped off by everybody. By everybody," Joanne Urso said.

She told me Richie died of a heart attack on the kitchen floor of a girlfriend's home, on April 15, 2003. "You should call her," she said.

So we did. The woman is Mary Ann Dinovo, who works in human resources for the county tax review board, which handles tax appeals for every parcel of real estate in the county.

"He said, 'What do you got to eat?' " recalled Dinovo. "I'd just made a big tuna salad. He said, 'Can I have some?' The TV was on in the kitchen. The fork dropped out of his hand. He said he felt sick and went to the bathroom."

Minutes later, Richie Urso, his mouth full of tuna salad, was dead at age 61.

"It was karma that we met," Dinovo said. "We loved to do things together, go to shows, go to Navy Pier. ... He'd always play like he was poor. 'I'm just a poor truck driver,' he'd say. Sometimes we'd drive by a piece of property and he'd ask me who owned it."

Did you help him find out who owned it? "Absolutely not," said Dinovo, who said she has not been contacted by federal authorities. "I never knew what the hell he had. I didn't ask. But how do you think I felt when after he died, his friends told me that he was worth, like, $50 million? I said, 'What?' "

In late November of last year, Blagojevich hadn't yet been arrested. But the noose was tightening.

About a week before the FBI knocked on the governor's door, they knocked on Joanne Urso's door. FBI agents and a lawyer from the U.S. attorney's office wanted to chat.

"They asked about everything that was going on with the banks, the lawyers, our properties," Joanne Urso said. "... They asked about Amrish Mahajan and the governor. Oh, and [state Sen.] Jimmy DeLeo, they asked about him."

Only Blagojevich has been charged with a crime, and it's not illegal to know a guy like Richie Urso.

The FBI didn't have to ask about Richie and the Outfit. Without Richie, there may not have been a Family Secrets case that sent three mob bosses to prison.

That's because in 1986, just three months after gangsters Tony and Michael Spilotro were murdered, Richie Urso was the victim of an Outfit shakedown.

It all came out in testimony by mob turncoat Nicholas Calabrese, and chronicled in the book "Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob" by my colleague Jeff Coen.

Nick's brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., and fellow mobster John Fecarotta were competing to squeeze Urso for payments on a juice loan from the 1960s. It wasn't even Urso who borrowed the money. The father of an Urso partner owed the juice.

Urso was growing wealthy by the 1980s, and the mob wanted a piece. Fecarotta demanded that Urso make Fecarotta's house payments. Frank Calabrese Sr. held a knife to Urso's crotch, also demanding cash, according to trial testimony.

By then, Fecarotta had botched the burial of the Spilotro bodies, leaving them in a shallow grave in an Indiana cornfield, allowing them to be found. Fecarotta's shakedown of Richie Urso gave Frank Sr. another reason to lobby Outfit bosses for a Fecarotta solution. "And that sort of put the nail in the coffin," Nick Calabrese testified.

Nick and Frank helped kill Fecarotta on Belmont Avenue, but Nick lost a bloody glove at the scene. Years later, the FBI used DNA from that glove to turn Nick Calabrese into a star government witness.

The Outfit usually doesn't shake down legitimate squares, but targets people who can't run to the government.

"My husband helped all of them," Joanne Urso said. "When people borrowed money, he paid for that. He was paying and paying all his life."

At the time of his death Richie Urso controlled a string of properties, including a South Loop building housing the Pink Monkey strip club, a Cicero property housing the adult bookstore Bare Assets and a Chicago Chinatown neighborhood shopping complex. But the crown jewel was the land near the jail complex.

Now City Hall has moved to take the property. According to public records, Joanne Urso owes Mutual Bank more than $9 million on that property and another huge lot at 6501 W. 51st St.

The city has offered her $7.1 million for the Little Village parcel. Her appraisers say it's worth $13 million. It would be worth much more if Cook County expands the jail.

"They [City Hall] thought I would sell it right away," she said. "But I wasn't going to just give it away. Now it feels they've decided to try and just take it."

Joanne Urso is a woman alone. Her clout died six years ago, on another woman's kitchen floor, with tuna salad in his mouth.

Once, Richie Urso was squeezed by the Outfit. Now his widow is getting squeezed by City Hall. It's a classic Chicago story.

The central theme is that there's nothing deader than dead clout. And now Joanne Urso has to pay for it.

Thanks to John Kass

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ex-Governor of Illinois Accuses Democrats of Ties to The Chicago Outfit

The adjourned session of the General Assembly failed abysmally to come to grips with Illinois’ pervasive state of corruption. Leading the failure were two Chicagoans — Mike Madigan, speaker of the House and John Cullerton, president of the Senate. The Chicago bloc fell in line behind them, demonstrating once again the baleful grip that Chicago’s Democratic machine, now 85 years old, has on this state.

It’s time to state the obvious. The primary cause of endemic corruption in Illinois is the Chicago political machine.

The machine began with “Push Cart” Tony, Anton J. Cermak. He and his successor, Edward J. Kelly, welded the Democratic Party’s 50 ward committeemen and 3,000 precinct captains into a tight, powerful and well-disciplined political machine that on election day regularly delivered the votes needed to elect its candidates — the ultimate goal of the Chicago machine, then and now.

Demanding unswerving loyalty, the machine absorbed many thousands of new arrivals — first, the Irish, Italians, Jews, Poles and Germans, and then the blacks from the South. With few changes in its disciplined methodology, it has now endured for more than 80 years as the available patronage jobs have grown to exceed 40,000.

From the beginning, self-preservation and a lack of ethical standards have characterized the machine’s method of operations. And the machine MO has always included its cardinal credo — “look the other way.” If thy brother is lining his pockets, it’s none of thine’s business.

The credo of toleration and its accompanying lack of ethical standards was hardened when the machine encountered Al Capone’s criminal organization. Sometimes close, sometimes at arms’ length, the political organization with its “look the other way” credo has ever since tolerated what has been called variously the criminal organization, crime syndicate, the Mob, the Chicago Outfit.

The blindness to crime existed in the 11th Ward organization, home for all the Daleys. The precinct captains of that ward organization worked the same streets as the Outfit’s soldiers.

Yet, Daley constantly denied that organized crime existed in Chicago. Significantly, Richard M. Daley looked the other way as state’s attorney, Cook County’s chief law enforcement officer from 1980 to 1989. Ignored during those years were the criminal activities of the Outfit disclosed recently by the Family Secrets trial.

The machine’s political power has extended over the years far beyond Chicago. The machine has also controlled the state’s Democratic Party organization and the selection of candidates for both county and state office. In the state legislature, the machine has constantly controlled a large bloc.

With wheeling and dealing and masterful power brokering raised to an art form, the machine bloc has enabled Chicago machine politics to control both leaders and the flow of legislation in both houses. To get anything accomplished, downstate legislators must bow to the Chicago leadership.

In recent years, money has replaced patronage as the critical fuel for the machine’s operations. So-called “pay to play” has become endemic. Governmental rewards go to those making large contributions. In practical effect, it’s legalized bribery.

Often, the money flows through lawyers — a business desiring governmental results pays high fees to particular attorneys who, in turn, make campaign contributions to the official having the power to grant the favors.

Today, Mayor Richard M. Daley denies that he heads a political machine. He should read the felony indictments of more than 130 officials in his administration. They spell out an MO that is basically no different from that of old-time bosses Tony Cermak and Edward Kelly. And basically, it’s the same MO spelled out in the 75-page indictment of impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the 18-count indictment of former secretary of state and Gov. George Ryan, one a Democrat and the other a Republican.

The columnist Mike Royko once wrote that the City of Chicago’s official motto, “Urbs in Horto” (city in a garden), should be changed to, “Ubi est Mea” (what’s in it for me). That has a strange similarity to Blagojevich’s infamous statement about the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama that he tried to auction off to the highest bidder: “I’ve got this thing and it’s ---- golden and I’m not going to give it away for ---- nothing.”

As the trial lawyers say, I rest my case. The record is clear that it is the Chicago political machine that has brought Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, to its present intolerable state of corruption.

Thanks to Dan Walker, Governor of Illinois from 1973-77.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Racketeering Lawsuit Filed Against Rod Blagojevich by Three Casino Companies

Three casino companies have filed a $267 million racketeering lawsuit against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and a prominent racetrack owner over a controversial law that requires casinos to funnel part of their revenues to struggling horse tracks.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago Friday, grew out of a federal investigation into an alleged pay-to-play scheme the former governor is accused of running.

A federal affidavit alleged Mr. Blagojevich attempted to pressure John Johnston, whose family owns and operates several tracks in the Chicago area, for a $100,000 contribution in return for the governor's signature on legislation to help the struggling horse-racing industry. The legislation requires the state's four top-earning casinos to give 3% of their gross adjusted annual revenues to the horse-racing industry.

The suit, filed by Harrah's Entertainment Inc., MGM Mirage and Penn National Gaming Corp., says Mr. Johnston and various businesses under his control donated tens of thousands of dollars to Mr. Blagojevich in return for the former governor's support for the legislation, which was approved twice by legislators. Attorneys for Mr. Blagojevich didn't return calls for comment.

Dan Reinberg, a lawyer for Mr. Johnston, said the suit "wasn't unexpected. The reality is that this is desperation by the casinos."

The casino suit comes days after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to stay out of the issue, and passed on hearing an appeal from the casinos on the matter.

In their complaint, naming Mr. Blagojevich, his campaign fund, Friends of Blagojevich, and Mr. Johnston, the casinos allege "Blagojevich had sold, and Johnston purchased, enactment of this law." A spokeswoman for Harrah's said the suit was filed Friday. A copy of that suit was provided by the plaintiffs.

The law was enacted in 2006 and mandated that the casino funds be transferred to the horse tracks for two years. The complaint says that after the 2006 passage, "Blagojevich and Johnston and possibly others in the horse racing industry, agreed that Johnston or his affiliates would pay Blagojevich or Friends of Blagojevich money in exchange for ensuring the enactment" of the law. The complaint says that a month after Mr. Blagojevich signed the 2006 law, Mr. Johnston contributed $125,000 to Friends of Blagojevich though various affiliates. "To conceal their unlawful scheme, Johnston arranged for this money to paid through several entities under his control," the suit alleges.

A similar bill extending the transfer of funds was passed in 2008, which Mr. Blagojevich signed last December.

Mr. Reinberg said Mr. Johnston refused to pay Mr. Blagojevich. The alleged attempt to extort money from his client "speaks to the former Governor's integrity but has nothing to do with the merits of the bill itself,'' Mr. Reinberg said.

Mr. Reinberg said Mr. Johnston's campaign contributions to Mr. Blagojevich were routine, and timed to an annual June fundraiser for the Governor, and not payment for enactment of the initial 2006 law, as the suit alleges.

Mr. Johnston "never made a contribution to Governor Blagojevich or any other politician with a quid pro quo or any expectation that the Governor would act on his behalf," Mr. Reinberg said.

The complaint accuses Messrs. Johnston and Blagojevich of racketeering under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO law.

So far, casinos have paid $89.2 million into an escrow account being held for the horse-racing industry while the legal battles over the law have raged.

Thanks to Tamara Audi

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Robert Cooley Has Advice for Rod Blagojevich

This past week, top FBI informant Robert Cooley e-mailed Newsalert in regards to an ABC TV Chicago story by Chuck Goudie. Blago was rather upset with Chuck Goudie over Cooley's allegation that Blago was a Chicago Mob bookmaker years ago. Here's what Blagojevich told Chuck Goudie:

"That Cooley is a liar," he said. "I am going to sue that (bleepin') Cooley," Blagojevich stated, his face red at this point with apparent anger. He repeated: "I'm going to sue him."

Cooley e-mailed Newsalert with a suggestion on legal counsel for Blago's lawsuit against Cooley, here's the quote:

"If Blago wants to sue me he can hire Ed Burke, or Ed Genson,or Pat Tuite, to represent him."

Alderman Burke is a powerful Chicago Alderman and tax appeals attorney. Cooley has accused Alderman Burke in a published book of trying to fix a murder trial for the Chicago Mob, but Alderman Burke didn't sue. Ed Genson and Pat Tuite are also attorneys mentioned in Cooley's book (concerning legal allegations) but they didn't sue either. Cooley also had this bit of advice for Blago:

"Rod can call Dan Stefanski as a witness."

Dan Stefanski is the former Teamster official who's been accused of ties to the Chicago Mob. The AP reported this story on March 9, 2006:

A top-ranking official in the state Department of Transportation and childhood friend of Gov. Rod Blagojevich is out of a job less than a month after he was arrested for drunken driving, officials said Thursday.

Dan Stefanski was ``informed his services were no longer needed'' in his role as a special assistant to Transportation Secretary Tim Martin last week, department spokesman Matt Vanover said.

Blago was willing to give Stefanski a $105,000 a year job.

Blagojevich Threatens to Sue Cooley Over Bookmaking Allegations

Elevator pitch is the common business term for that short presentation you would make if you had to sell a product or idea to someone in the time span of an elevator ride.

When I (Chuck Goudie) was the only reporter with Rod Blagojevich on an elevator on Tuesday, as soon as the doors closed the ex-governor began his pitch.

It was inside an elevator at the Dirksen Federal Building that Mr. Blagojevich began his pitch, as he and I rode to the 25th floor with only his lawyer and a deputy U.S. Marshal.

The ousted governor had already made his public points on the way in. But once we were behind closed elevator doors, away from the cameras, Blagojevich launched into a pitched tirade about something else: illegal gambling and allegations that he worked as a bookmaker, taking action from sports gamblers before he got into politics.

"That bookmaking story was (bleep)," said Illinois' former leader. "I did not do that. I deny it. It's a (bleepin') lie," he said in what would become an uninterrupted diatribe.

Pointing to me, he said, "This man is a (bleepin') liar. He puts lies on TV."

The target of Blagojevich's elevator pitch: an I-Team report four months ago, shortly after the governor was arrested on corruption charges.

"When I was working with government wearing wire, I reported, I observed Rod, the present governor, who was running a gambling operation out in the western suburbs. He was paying street tax to the mob out there," said Robert Cooley, federal informant.

Cooley made those comments on a Web based interview show. I also spoke to him at length on the phone about his allegations against Blagojevich.

The senior FBI agent who supervised Cooley's undercover work confirmed that Cooley gave officials information about Blagojevich's alleged bookmaking back in 1986. Current federal officials declined to comment. But back in the elevator on Tuesday, Blagojevich was still on a roll.

"That Cooley is a liar," he said. "I am going to sue that (bleepin') Cooley," Blagojevich stated, his face red at this point with apparent anger. He repeated: "I'm going to sue him."

When the doors opened to the 25th floor where Blagojevich was about to be arraigned in court, he adjusted his necktie, composed himself and walked off. A few minutes later pleading not guilty to corruption charges.

The only other words said during Blagojevich's elevator pitch came when I reminded him that the I-Team had offered numerous opportunities to respond to the bookmaking allegations.

In the elevator Blagojevich said he wanted to respond on camera and will and on Wednesday his public relations agent said the ex-governor will talk to the I-Team on camera about this at some point, but not today.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Monday, April 06, 2009

Blagojevich Case Goes to Family Secrets Mob Trial Judge

Fresh off handling one of Chicago's biggest mob cases in decades, U.S. District Judge James Zagel will preside over the corruption case against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And it's no accident.

Normally, prosecutors would have issued a new indictment against Blagojevich and a circle of aides, prompting the case to be randomly assigned to a judge. But instead prosecutors on Thursday added the former governor and four top associates to an existing indictment against Springfield power broker William Cellini. That ensured that Blagojevich would be tried before Zagel, who was randomly assigned the Cellini case when it was filed last fall.

Although there's at least a hint of judge-shopping in the move, Chicago lawyers said the decision by prosecutors was permissible and a clever way to keep the Blagojevich case before a judge with whom they are comfortable.

The move had another immediate impact: Terence Gillespie dropped out Friday as Blagojevich's lead attorney because he once helped represent Cellini.

Prosecutors have made no comment on the move, but it can't be argued that the charges against Cellini are unrelated to the schemes detailed in the former governor's sweeping indictment.

Zagel, a Reagan appointee who has served almost 22 years on the federal bench, is widely respected but is seen by many attorneys as generally pro-government.

Some attorneys—none of whom wanted to be quoted by name because they likely will have cases before him again—noting his background as a former director of the Illinois State Police in the 1980s, said he would be more law-enforcement-minded.

Allowing the Blagojevich case to go to a randomly selected judge, although certainly the usual procedure, would have carried some inherent risk for prosecutors. Some judges can be more independent than others, and some are just unpredictable.

The U.S. attorney's office recently was stung when U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur sentenced convicted former Chicago Ald. Edward Vrdolyak to probation and not prison. And the trial of former Gov. George Ryan before U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer was seen by some critics, including one appeals judge, as an out-of-control spectacle with a jury that did as it pleased.

Zagel presided over the landmark Family Secrets trial of top Chicago Outfit bosses in summer 2007, winning praise from lawyers on both sides.

He recently wrapped up the case by sentencing several defendants to life in prison. It was a proceeding that needed careful management with some of Chicago's craftiest defense attorneys and a cast of mob characters including Joey "the Clown" Lombardo and Frank Calabrese Sr.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Saturday, April 04, 2009


Since 2002, even before he was first elected governor that November, and continuing until he was arrested on Dec. 9, 2008, former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and a circle of his closest aides and advisors allegedly engaged in a wide-ranging scheme to deprive the people of Illinois of honest government, according to a 19-count indictment returned today by a federal grand jury.

Blagojevich, 52, of Chicago, was charged with 16 felony counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. He allegedly used his office in numerous matters involving state appointments, business, legislation and pension fund investments to seek or obtain such financial benefits as money, campaign contributions, and employment for himself and others, in exchange for official actions, including trying to leverage his authority to appoint a U.S. Senator, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

Also charged as co-defendants in the same indictment are:

John Harris, 47, of Chicago. Blagojevich’s chief of staff from late 2005 until last December after he was arrested along with Blagojevich. Through his attorney, Harris, who is charged with a single count of wire fraud, has authorized the Government to disclose that he has agreed to cooperate with the United States Attorney’s Office in the prosecution of this case;

Alonzo Monk, 50, of Park Ridge, Ill. A lobbyist doing business as AM3 Consulting, Ltd., and a long-time Blagojevich associate who served as his general counsel when Blagojevich represented Illinois’ Fifth Congressional District, and later managed his 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial campaigns, was his first gubernatorial chief of staff from 2003 through 2005, and later chairman of his campaign fund;

Robert Blagojevich, 53, of Nashville, Tenn. Blagojevich’s brother, who became chairman of his campaign fund in August 2008;

Christopher Kelly, 50, of Burr Ridge, Ill. A businessman and a principal campaign fundraiser who also served as chairman of Blagojevich’s campaign fund from early 2004 until August 2005. The indictment alleges that with Blagojevich’s knowledge and permission, Kelly at times exercised substantial influence over certain activities of the governor’s office; and

William F. Cellini, Sr., 74, of Springfield, Ill. A businessman who also raised significant funds for Blagojevich, in part through his role as the executive director of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association. Cellini had longstanding relationships and influence with trustees and staff members of the Teachers Retirement System of Illinois (TRS), and he was associated with Commonwealth Realty Advisors, a real estate asset management firm that invested hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of TRS, the indictment alleges.

All six defendants will be arraigned on dates yet to be determined before U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel in Federal Court in Chicago. Blagojevich was charged with 11 counts of wire fraud, two counts of attempted extortion, and one count each of racketeering conspiracy, extortion conspiracy, and making false statements. The specific counts and maximum penalties each defendant is facing are listed separately.

The charges are part of Operation Board Games, a continuing public corruption investigation of pay-to-play schemes, including insider-dealing, influence-peddling and kickbacks involving private interests and public duties. The investigation began in 2003 and has resulted in charges against a total of 17 defendants. Today’s charges were brought in a superseding indictment that replaces one brought Oct. 30, 2008, against Cellini alone for allegedly conspiring with others to obtain campaign funds for Blagojevich by shaking down an investment firm that was seeking a $220 million allocation from TRS.

Mr. Fitzgerald announced the indictment with Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI; Alvin Patton, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) in Chicago; Thomas P. Brady, Inspector-in-Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) in Chicago; and James Vanderberg, Regional Inspector-in-Charge of the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.

The indictment adds several new allegations to those that were lodged in the criminal complaint filed in December when Blagojevich and Harris were arrested. It includes the previous factual allegations that Blagojevich conspired to sell or trade Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat formerly held by President Obama; threatened to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical of Blagojevich; and schemed to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions – both historically and in a push late last year before a new state ethics law took effect.

Among the new factual allegations are that:

* Beginning in 2002 and continuing after Blagojevich was first elected governor, Blagojevich and Monk, along with Kelly and previously convicted co-schemer Antoin “Tony” Rezko, agreed that they would use the offices of governor and chief of staff for financial gain, which would be divided among them with the understanding that the money would be distributed after Blagojevich left public office;
* In 2003, Blagojevich, Monk, Kelly, Rezko and other co-schemers implemented this agreement by directing lucrative state business relating to the refinancing of billions of dollars in State of Illinois Pension Obligation Bonds to a company whose lobbyist agreed to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to Rezko out of the fee the lobbyist would collect, and Rezko in turn agreed to split the money with Blagojevich, Monk and Kelly;
* After it became public that Kelly and Rezko were under investigation and ceased playing a significant role in raising campaign funds, Blagojevich personally continued to trade his actions as governor for personal benefits, including, for example, delaying a state grant to a publicly-supported school while trying to leverage a U.S. Congressman, who supported the school, or the Congressman’s brother, to hold a campaign fundraiser for Blagojevich; and
* In an interview on March 16, 2005, Blagojevich lied to FBI agents when he said that he maintains a separation, or firewall, between politics and state business; and he does not track, or want to know, who contributes to him or how much they are contributing to him.

While expanding the allegations, the 75-page indictment is cast somewhat more broadly than the 76-page complaint affidavit, which contained excerpts from court-authorized wiretaps of intercepted conversations that Blagojevich had with others in both his personal office and a conference room in the Chicago offices of his campaign fund, Friends of Blagojevich, located at 4147 North Ravenswood, Suite 300, as well as over his home telephone.

Friends of Blagojevich is not a defendant, but, pursuant to the racketeering count, the indictment seeks forfeiture from Blagojevich of all funds and assets held at four banks in the name of, or on behalf of, Friends of Blagojevich. Although Kelly, Monk and Robert Blagojevich at various times held the post of chairman of Friends of Blagojevich, the indictment states that fund’s activities and financial affairs at all times were controlled by Blagojevich personally and the fund operated for his benefit. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of $188,370 from Blagojevich as proceeds of the alleged fraud scheme and racketeering activity, and lists Blagojevich’s apartment in Washington, D.C., and his Ravenswood Manor home in Chicago as substitute assets.

Separate counts of racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud contain similar, overlapping factual allegations. The RICO conspiracy count alleges that Blagojevich personally, the Office of the Governor of Illinois and Friends of Blagojevich were associated and, together, constituted the “Blagojevich Enterprise,” whose primary purpose was to exercise and preserve power over Illinois government for the financial and political benefit of Blagojevich, both directly and through Friends of Blagojevich, and for the financial benefit of his family members and associates. Blagojevich and Kelly, the only RICO conspiracy defendants, allegedly conspired with Monk, Cellini, Harris, Robert Blagojevich, Rezko and previously convicted cooperating defendant Stuart Levine, to conduct the Blagojevich Enterprise through a pattern of multiple acts of mail and wire fraud, extortion, attempted extortion and extortion conspiracy, and state bribery.

As part of the racketeering conspiracy, Blagojevich allegedly permitted Kelly and Rezko to exercise substantial influence over certain gubernatorial activities, as well as state boards and commissions, knowing that they would use this influence to enrich themselves and their associates. In return, Kelly and Rezko allegedly benefitted Blagojevich by generating millions of dollars in campaign contributions and providing financial benefits directly to Blagojevich and his family.

The principle fraud scheme count, which names Blagojevich, Monk, Harris and Robert Blagojevich as co-schemers, together with Kelly, Cellini, Rezko, Levine and others, alleges that they deprived the people of Illinois and the beneficiaries of TRS of the honest services of Blagojevich, Harris, Monk and Levine, who was a member of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board and the TRS board of trustees.

The alleged fraud scheme provides the most detailed recitation of the various factual allegations in the indictment. It alleges that Blagojevich, Monk, Kelly and Rezko agreed to use Blagojevich’s and Monk’s offices to divide financial gain among themselves, including the kickback from the Pension Obligation Bond refinancing. In addition, the indictment sets forth the following allegations as part of the fraud scheme:

Maintaining Control Over TRS

In the spring of 2003, Kelly Rezko, Cellini, and Levine agreed that Kelly and Rezko would use their influence with the Blagojevich administration to assist Cellini and Levine in maintaining influence over the activities of TRS, and in return, Cellini and Levine would use their influence to cause TRS to invest in funds, and to use law firms, selected by Kelly and Rezko, at times in exchange for substantial contributions to Friends of Blagojevich.

The Solicitation of Ali Ata

In late 2002, Ali Ata, a businessman who previously pleaded guilty and is cooperating, and who was solicited by Rezko to make political contributions to Blagojevich, brought a $25,000 check to Rezko’s offices, where Ata met with Blagojevich. Blagojevich asked Rezko if Rezko had talked to Ata about positions in the administration, and Rezko said that he had. In July 2003, after discussions with Rezko about possible state appointments, Ata gave Rezko another $25,000 check payable to Blagojevich’s campaign. Ata then had a conversation with Blagojevich at a fundraising event in which Blagojevich indicated that he was aware Ata recently had made another substantial contribution to his campaign, and told Ata that he understood Ata would be joining his administration. Ata replied that he was considering taking a position, and Blagojevich said that it had better be a job where Ata could make some money. Blagojevich ultimately appointed Ata as the executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority.

The Solicitation of Joseph Cari

On Oct. 29, 2003, Joseph Cari, then a Chicago lawyer and a national Democratic fundraiser who has also pleaded guilty and is cooperating, was traveling on a plane with Blagojevich, Kelly and Levine to a Blagojevich fundraiser that Cari hosted in New York. Cari and Blagojevich spoke about Cari’s fundraising background and Blagojevich’s interest in running for President. Blagojevich said it was easier for governors to solicit campaign contributions because of their ability to award contracts and give legal work, consulting work, and investment banking work to campaign contributors, and that Kelly and Rezko were his point people in raising campaign contributions. Blagojevich said that Rezko and Kelly would follow up with Cari about this discussion.

Sometime after October 2003, Rezko told Cari that Rezko had a close relationship with the Blagojevich administration and a role in picking consultants, law firms and other entities to get state business, and that Monk helped implement Rezko’s choices for state work. Rezko said that the Blagojevich administration would be helpful to Cari’s business interests in exchange for raising money for Blagojevich.

On March 5, 2004, Cari met with Kelly, who said he was following up on Cari’s conversations with Blagojevich, Rezko and Levine. Kelly asked for Cari’s help in raising money on a national level for Blagojevich. When Cari said he was not inclined to help, Kelly pushed Cari to assist and said that helping Blagojevich would be good for Cari’s business interests and that Cari could have whatever Cari wanted if he agreed to help.

Campaign Contributions Solicited for TRS Investments

In March 2004, Lobbyist A met with Kelly to ask how two of Lobbyist A’s clients could become eligible to manage investments for TRS. Kelly told Lobbyist A that TRS was Rezko’s area, and later told Lobbyist A that he had spoken with Rezko, and that it would require a $50,000 campaign contribution to Blagojevich for a firm to get on TRS’s list of recommended fund managers.

The Attempted Extortion of Capri Capital

In April 2004, Levine, Rezko and Kelly agreed that unless Capri Capital or one of its principals, Thomas Rosenberg, arranged to raise or make significant political contributions for Blagojevich, Capri Capital would not receive a proposed $220 million investment from TRS. They further agreed that Cellini would deliver that message to Rosenberg.

In early May 2004, Levine advised Cellini of the plan, which Cellini assisted by indicating to Rosenberg that Capri Capital had not yet received its $220 million allocation from TRS because of its failure to make political donations to Blagojevich. After Rosenberg told Cellini that Rosenberg would not be extorted and he threatened to expose the attempt by informing law enforcement, Cellini ensured that Kelly, Rezko and Levine learned about Rosenberg’s threat.

On May 11, 2004, Cellini, Levine, Rezko and Kelly agreed that in light of Rosenberg’s threat to expose the extortion attempt, it was too risky to continue demanding money from him or to block the $220 million allocation to Capri Capital. They agreed that although Capri Capital would receive the $220 million allocation, it would not receive any further business from any state entity, including TRS. After the discussion, Cellini and Levine took steps to conceal the extortion plan, including using their influence and Levine’s position at TRS to ensure that Capri Capital received its $220 million allocation.

(A separate fraud conspiracy count against Kelly and Cellini alleges that in the summer of 2004, they discussed with Rezko and others moving TRS Staffer A - the Executive Director of TRS – to another job with a different state entity to ensure that he would not cooperate with law enforcement. And, in the summer and fall of 2004, Cellini, Rezko and others allegedly discussed the possibility of removing the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois to stop the investigation.)

Rezko told Cellini and Levine, in separate conversations, that Blagojevich had been told about the attempt to extort Rosenberg, and Blagojevich had said that Rosenberg meant nothing to him.

Benefits Given to Blagojevich and Monk

To ensure that Blagojevich and Monk continued to give Rezko substantial influence regarding appointments to boards and commissions, hiring for state employment, and the awarding of state contracts, grants, and investment fund allocations, Rezko gave certain benefits to Blagojevich and Monk including the following:

* In late August 2003, Rezko directed to Blagojevich’s wife a payment of $14,396 in connection with a real estate transaction involving property at 850 North Ogden Ave., Chicago, even though Blagojevich’s wife had not performed any services;
* From approximately October 2003 to May 2004, Rezko, through his real estate development company, gave Blagojevich’s wife payments of $12,000 a month, purportedly for real estate brokerage services;
* In January 2004, Rezko directed to Blagojevich’s wife a payment of $40,000 purportedly for brokerage services in connection with the sale of property at 1101 West Lake St., Chicago, even though Blagojevich’s wife had provided few, if any, services relating to that sale; and
* From the spring of 2004 until 2006, Rezko provided to Monk a number of $10,000 cash gifts to pay for various items, such as a car and home improvements, totaling approximately $70,000 to $90,000.

The Search for Employment for Blagojevich’s Wife

After Blagojevich’s wife’s real estate business became the subject of critical media coverage, Blagojevich directed Harris to try to find a paid state board appointment or position for her. During several conversations in early 2008, Blagojevich informed Harris that he wanted his wife put on the Pollution Control Board, which pays salaries to its board members. When Harris told Blagojevich that his wife was not qualified for the position, Blagojevich told him to find other employment for his wife.

In the spring of 2008, around the time that Blagojevich’s wife passed a licensing exam that allowed her to sell financial securities, Blagojevich asked Harris and others to set up informational or networking meetings for his wife with financial institutions that had business with the state in hopes that those businesses would assist in getting his wife a job. Harris later arranged meetings between Blagojevich’s wife and officials at two financial institutions that had business with the state. When Blagojevich concluded that officials at these institutions were unhelpful in finding his wife a job, he told Harris that he did not want the institutions receiving further business from the state.

Attempted Extortion of United States Congressman A

In 2006, after Congressman A inquired about the status of a $2 million grant for the benefit of a publicly-supported school, Blagojevich instructed Harris not to release the grant until Blagojevich gave further direction, even though Blagojevich previously had agreed to support the grant and funds were included in the state’s budget.

In response to inquiries by a high-ranking state official as to whether the grant money could be released, Blagojevich informed that official that Blagojevich wanted it communicated to Congressman A that the congressman's brother needed to have a fundraiser for Blagojevich.

Blagojevich told Lobbyist A that Blagojevich was giving a $2 million grant to a school in Congressman A’s district and instructed Lobbyist A to approach Congressman A for a fundraiser. After Blagojevich learned from Harris that the school had started to incur expenses that were to be paid with the grant funds, Blagojevich initially resisted the release of the grant money, and ultimately agreed to the release of certain grant funds to cover incurred expenses, but only on a delayed basis, even though no fundraiser had been held.

Attempted Extortion of Children’s Memorial Hospital

On Oct. 8, 2008, defendant Blagojevich advised Lobbyist A that he intended to take official action that would provide additional state money to Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and that Blagojevich wanted to get $50,000 in campaign contributions from the hospital’s chief executive officer.

On Oct. 17, 2008, Blagojevich called the hospital’s CEO to tell him of his intent to increase the Illinois Medicaid reimbursement rate for speciality-care pediatric physicians. Shortly before this, Blagojevich had directed Deputy Governor A to initiate such an increase, which Illinois providers of pediatric healthcare, including Children’s Memorial Hospital, had actively supported for years.

On Oct. 22, 2008, Blagojevich spoke with the Children’s CEO and asked him to arrange to raise $25,000 for Blagojevich prior to Jan. 1, 2009. On Nov. 12, 2008, after the Children’s CEO had not returned additional phone calls from Robert Blagojevich and no political contributions from the Children’s CEO or other persons associated with the hospital had been received, Blagojevich spoke to Deputy Governor A about the increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rates for specialty-care pediatric physicians, asking whether “we could pull it back if we needed to. . . .” As a result of this conversation, Deputy Governor A instructed the Department of Healthcare Services to stop its work on increasing the reimbursement for specialty-care pediatric physicians.

Attempted Extortion of Racetrack Executive

On Nov. 13, 2008, Blagojevich told Robert Blagojevich that he wanted campaign contributions to be made by the end of the year by Racetrack Executive, who, as Blagojevich knew, managed horse racing tracks that would financially benefit from a bill pending in the Illinois General Assembly that would require certain Illinois casinos to give money to a fund that would help the state’s horse racing industry. At that time, as Blagojevich knew, Monk had been trying to arrange a contribution from Racetrack Executive, and Blagojevich had set a goal of raising $100,000 in contributions from and through this individual.

Blagojevich had further conversations with Monk about the horse racing and casino bill after it was passed by the state legislature on Nov. 20, 2008. Blagojevich and Monk discussed whether and when Blagojevich would sign the bill, and whether and when Racetrack Executive would arrange for a campaign contribution to Blagojevich. On Dec. 3, 2008, Blagojevich indicated to Monk that he was concerned that Racetrack Executive would not make a contribution by the end of the year if he signed the bill before the contribution was made. As a result, Monk and Blagojevich agreed that Monk would speak with Racetrack Executive to ensure that he would make a contribution by the end of the year.

After meeting with Blagojevich on Dec. 3, 2008, Monk visited Racetrack Executive and told him that Blagojevich was concerned that Racetrack Executive would not make a contribution to Blagojevich if the bill was signed before the contribution was made. After meeting with Racetrack Executive, Monk reported to Blagojevich that Monk had said to Racetrack Executive, “look, there is a concern that there is going to be some skittishness if your bill gets signed because of the timeliness of the commitment,” and made it clear to Racetrack Executive that the contribution has “got to be in now.” Blagojevich responded, “good” and “good job.”

On Dec. 4, 2008, Monk asked Blagojevich to call Racetrack Executive and to suggest that Blagojevich would sign the bill, because this would be better “from a pressure point of view.” Blagojevich agreed to call Racetrack Executive.

Attempted Extortion of Highway Contractor

On Sept. 18, 2008, Blagojevich, Monk and Robert Blagojevich met with Construction Executive, who was both an executive with a company that manufactured and distributed road building materials and a representative of a road construction trade group. Blagojevich said that he was planning on announcing a $1.5 billion road building program that would be administered through the Illinois Toll Highway Authority and that he might authorize an additional $6 billion road building program later on. Blagojevich then asked for Construction Executive’s help in raising contributions for Blagojevich’s campaign by the end of the year. After Construction Executive left the meeting, Blagojevich instructed Monk to try to get Construction Executive to raise $500,000 in contributions. As Blagojevich knew, Monk later had a series of conversations with Construction Executive about the possibility of arranging for campaign contributions to Blagojevich.

On Oct. 6, 2008, Blagojevich told Lobbyist A that he would make an announcement concerning a $1.8 billion project involving the tollway and that Monk would approach Construction Executive to ask that he raise substantial campaign contributions. Blagojevich further said that he could have announced a larger amount of money for road projects, but wanted to see how Construction Executive performed in raising contributions, and he added words to the effect of “If they don’t perform, [expletive] ‘em.

On Oct. 22, 2008, approximately one week after Blagojevich publicly announced a portion of a $1.8 billion program to upgrade interchanges on the tollway system, Blagojevich called Construction Executive, spoke with him about the $1.8 billion program, and asked how he was coming with fundraising.

Efforts to Obtain Personal Financial Benefits for Blagojevich in Return for his Appointment of a United States Senator

Between October and Dec. 9, 2008, Blagojevich, with the assistance of Harris and Robert Blagojevich, and others, sought to obtain financial benefits for himself and his wife, in return for exercising his duty under Illinois law to appoint a United States Senator to fill the vacancy created by the election of President Barack Obama.

Blagojevich engaged in numerous conversations with others, at times including Harris and Robert Blagojevich, certain high-ranking employees of the Office of the Governor, and certain political consultants, to devise and set in motion plans by which Blagojevich could use his Senate appointment power to obtain financial benefits for himself and his wife. At times, Blagojevich directed others, including state employees, to assist in these endeavors, including by performing research and conveying messages to third parties. Blagojevich and his co-schemers devised and discussed obtaining financial benefits in the following forms, among others:

* Presidential appointment of Blagojevich to high-ranking positions in the federal government, including Secretary of Health and Human Services or an ambassadorship;
* A highly-paid leadership position with a private foundation dependent on federal aid, which Blagojevich believed could be influenced by the President-elect to name Blagojevich to such a position;
* A highly-paid leadership position with an organization known as “Change to Win,” consisting of seven affiliated labor unions, which, in a transaction suggested by Harris, could appoint Blagojevich as its chairman with the expectation that the President-elect would assist Change to Win with its national legislative agenda;
* Employment for Blagojevich’s wife with a union organization, lobbying firm, or on corporate boards of directors;
* A highly-paid leadership position with a newly-created, not-for-profit corporation which Blagojevich believed could be funded with large contributions by persons associated with the President-elect; and
* Substantial campaign fundraising assistance from individuals seeking the United States Senate seat and their backers, including from Senate Candidate A, whose associate Blagojevich understood to have offered $1.5 million in campaign contributions in return for Blagojevich's appointment of Senate Candidate A.

Further, Blagojevich discussed with his co-schemers means by which he could influence the President-elect to assist him in obtaining personal benefits for himself and his wife, including by appointing to the Senate a candidate whom Blagojevich believed to be favored by the President-elect. At times, Blagojevich attempted to further this goal by conveying messages, directly and with the assistance of others, to individuals whom he believed to be in communication with the President-elect.

On Dec. 4, 2008, Blagojevich instructed Robert Blagojevich to contact a representative of Senate Candidate A, and advise the representative that if Senate Candidate A was going to be chosen to fill the Senate seat, some of the promised fundraising had to occur before the appointment. Blagojevich instructed Robert Blagojevich to communicate the urgency of the message, and to do it in person, rather than over the phone. Robert Blagojevich agreed to do so, and thereafter arranged a meeting with an associate of Senate Candidate A.

On Dec. 5, 2008, following the publication that day of a newspaper article reporting that Blagojevich had been surreptitiously recorded in connection with an ongoing federal investigation, Blagojevich instructed Robert Blagojevich to cancel his meeting with the associate of Senate Candidate A, and Robert Blagojevich agreed to do so.

The Government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Reid Schar, Carrie Hamilton and Christopher Niewoehner.

If convicted, the maximum penalty for each offense is set forth in the accompanying chart. The Court, however, would determine the appropriate sentence to be imposed under the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, the indictment makes allegations that Blagojevich at times directed others to take various actions, but it should not be read to allege that those other persons carried out those directions unless the indictment specifically alleges so.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Rod Blagojevich to Join Pro Wrestling's Main Event Mafia?

TNA Wrestling is offering the newly created position of Chairman for its Main Event Mafia faction - and the opportunity to openly sell chairs, steel chairs - to ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

TNA officials confirmed that Blagojevich, who was impeached by the Illinois Senate on January 29, is being offered the “Chairman” job within its Main Event Mafia faction, an elite unit which includes U.S. Olympic Gold Medal winner Kurt Angle, former World Heavyweight Champions Kevin Nash, Booker T., and Scott Steiner, and reigning TNA Wrestling World Heavyweight Champion Sting.

Blagojevich was arrested on criminal charges on December 9, 2008, for conspiring to sell the senate seat vacated by then-President Elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder, but Angle truly believes in the U.S. justice system.

“He’s innocent until proven guilty,” Angle said. “As the leader of the Main Event Mafia, I am a huge fan of the Illinois style of politics. As such, Governor Blagojevich is welcome to join me and the entire Main Event Mafia at any and all TNA events in the future, and certainly is welcome to sell his seat with us should he choose not to accept our generous offer.”

Blagojevich is a former amateur boxer, so Angle is convinced Blagojevich, “easily will be able to handle the transition to pro wrestling,” Angle said.

The Illinois House of Representatives voted in favor of impeachment by an astounding margin of 114-1. The Illinois Senate voted 59-0 to remove him as governor, and passed legislation to prevent him from returning to office in the future.

Former State Lawyer Charges Blagojevich with Attempting to Steer Casino License to "Mobbed Up" Bidder

A former high-ranking state lawyer says she suffered dire consequences after refusing to take part in what she contends was the beginning of Governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption.

Unlike the impeachment and the criminal charges now facing Governor Blagojevich, what you are about to see is not from last month or even last year.

The corruption allegations began more than five years ago shortly after Rod Blagojevich was elected for the first time on a promise to reform Illinois politics.

"Today is my first full day on the job. I want to make clear that business as usual in Illinois state government is a thing of the past," said Blagojevich on Jan 14, 2003.

With that pledge, Mr. Blagojevich was off and running as Illinois governor. But in January 2003, as he jogged past the capitol, he didn't know that six years later the general assembly would be inside trying to throw him out. But a long-time state government attorney says that in 2003 she quickly had a sense of what was to come. "I was told that I would suffer dire consequences if I did not cooperate with the wishes of the administration," said Jeanette Tamayo, former state lawyer.

After the Blagojevich administration took charge six years ago, Tamayo was promoted from deputy chief legal counsel at the Illinois Gaming Board to interim administrator. At the time, gaming board members were deciding who would receive Illinois' tenth and final casino license. "It was very clear that the governor's interest revolved around the casino and the Village of Rosemont," said Tamayo.

Gaming board investigators didn't want Rosemont which they considered mobbed up. But according to a federal lawsuit filed by Jeanette Tamayo against Mr. Blagojevich and two of his top aides, Tamayo was threatened with retaliation and punishment if she didn't support a casino license for Rosemont.

"I received communications indicating what should happen with the gaming board and when I declined to cooperate with what I thought were unlawful or inappropriate requests, then my salary was not paid," said Tamayo.

Tamayo said "attempts to influence the outcome of the casino licensing investigation" were led by Chris Kelly who wasn't even a state employee. He was Blagojevich's chief fundraiser.

"He [Kelly] appeared at typically private meetings between the litigation counsel involved in the emerald casino cases and said 'I'm here. I represent the governor. I'm here to carry out his interests and this is what you are going to do'. He was not a lawyer. He was not on the state payroll. He just appeared as a representative of the governor and communicated or expressed that he was communicating the governor's wishes" said Tamayo.

Mr. Kelly's attorney Michael Monico of Chicago said that Kelly did nothing improper or illegal in any dealings with the Illinois Gaming Board. Kelly, who recently pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges, is not a named defendant in the lawsuit.

Former Blagojevich chief of staff Lon Monk is named in the suit, along with Illinois revenue director Brian Hamer who still holds that state job.

"On a state holiday I was invited to a meeting organized by the governor's staff, Lon Monk, to explain why I was not cooperating with the Illinois Department of Revenue. It was made very clear to me at that meeting that my cooperation was expected and how that cooperation was expected. And it was not a pleasant meeting," said Tamayo.

"When she resisted the governor and his administration's efforts to control and essentially take over the Illinois Gaming Board, she was retaliated against in terms of how she was treated and the salary the Illinois Gaming Board had approved for her," said Michael Condon, Tamayo's lawyer.

Tamayo says she complained to the house gaming committee, to other gaming board officials and went to the Illinois attorney general, questioning whether Blagojevich had a right to interfere with the supposedly independent board. That's when she claims to have been muscled by revenue boss Brian Hamer whom the suit says Mr. Blagojevich said "was his guy."

"He ordered me to stop consulting with the Attorney General and to instead consult with the governor's counsel," said Tamayo.

"What's come to light is a pattern of behavior by the governor and his administration in terms of how state government was being run and operated," said Condon.

Lawyers for the governor, his former chief of staff, the Illinois Gaming Board and the state revenue director would not comment for this report.

Lawyers for the Jeanette Tamayo case say they will soon try to have Blagojevich, Monk and Haymer come in for depositions in the case, all aimed at getting Tamayo her full back pay. She says she was forced to resign in 2006 and after a short stint at the Chicago Crime Commission, is now unemployed.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Top Ten Ways Rod Blagojevich Can Improve His Image

10 Star in new television series, "America's Funniest Haircuts"
Top Ten Ways Rod Blagojevich Can Improve His Image by David Letterman
9. Quit politics and become a fat, lovable mall cop

8. Start pronouncing last name with Jerry Lewis-like "BLAGOOOOYYYYYJEVICH"

7. Offer a senate seat with no money down, zero percent interest

6. Team up with John Malkovich and Erin Brockovich for hot Malkovich-Brockovich-Blagojevich sex tape

5. Change his name to Barod Obamavich

4. Safely land an Airbus on the Hudson River

3. I don't about showing up for his impeachment trial?

2. Wear sexy dresses, high heels and say, "You Betcha!"

1. Uhhh...resign?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blagojevich's Brother Tied to Betty Loren-Maltese

His last name is Blagojevich but his first name is Robert. He's the older brother of the embattled Illinois governor.

Who is Robert Blagojevich and why was the FBI listening to his cell phone calls?

Robert Blagojevich has been his 'brother's keeper' since last August or at least the keeper of his brother's multi-million dollar campaign fund, a political fund that Robert Blagojevich's lawyer says is likely to be indicted before it's all over.

The I-Team found that one of the most puzzling questions about the governor's brother concerns someone else's campaign fund.

On election night 2002, when Rod Blagojevich watched the returns roll in and won his first term as Illinois governor, brother Robert was there with him. But at the same time, according to state election records, Robert's financial services firm had an interest in another Illinois elected official, Betty Loren Maltese.

Maltese is the controversial and now imprisoned mayor of Cicero.

For more than two years, Maltese' bulging campaign fund had invested millions of dollars through a company headquartered in Tampa, Florida, the firm Invest Financial Corporation. Its CEO at the time was Robert Blagojevich, the governor's older brother.

State records show that between July of 2000 and September of 2002, Robert Blagojevich's company paid Maltese' campaign fund nearly $3.3 million. The dozens of entries are listed as investment dividends, interest and proceeds from the sale of U.S. Treasury bills.

Some of the investment payments from Robert Blagojevich's company occurred even after Mayor Maltese was convicted of swindling $12 million from the town through an insurance firm.

Lawyer Michael Ettinger, who represents the governor's brother in the current federal investigation, was unaware of the link to Betty Loren Maltese.

On Wednesday at the I-Team's request, Ettinger had Robert Blagojevich review the state records and Blagojevich reported that "he knows nothing about it" and that the investments must have been made by some other affiliated bank even though his was listed 41 times.

Since taking over as chairman of his brother's campaign fund, Robert Blagojevich has been paid $12,500 a month.

The FBI listened to as many as 50 phone calls between Robert, his brother the governor and others. Many of the calls were from Nashville, Tennessee where Robert Blagojevich lives in a stately colonial. The former U.S. Army commander is a real estate developer there, and a key fundraiser and board member for the YMCA.

"Selfless person, doesn't want recognition. Actually would rather not have it," said Michael Check, Nashville YMCA. But when federal authorities charged the governor last month, his brother was "fundraiser a" in the criminal complaint. In one conversation the governor allegedly told his brother that he wanted to collect cash upfront for the appointment to Barack Obama's Senate seat.

It was just a few months earlier, in May, that Robert Blagojevich gave the commencement speech at his alma mater, University of Tampa.

Oddly, even though his brother the governor also attended University of Tampa, Robert did not once utter his brother's name during the speech.

As for the Betty Loren Maltese financial affair, there are Blagojevich family ties to the crooked mayor of Cicero.

Governor Blagojevich and ex-mayor Maltese have one friend in common: Eddie Vrdolyak, the former Chicago alderman and longtime village attorney in Cicero. Gov. Blagojevich's first job was as a clerk in Vrdolyak's law firm and it was a relationship that rekindled when Blagojevich was elected governor. Vyrdolyak himself is now headed to federal prison for a kickback scheme involving one of the governor's top appointees.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie


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