'Step Aside'

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), December 10, 2008 | Go to article overview

'Step Aside'


Byline: Joseph Ryan and John Patterson jryan@dailyherald.com jopatterson@dailyherald.com

A U.S. Senate seat.

Wrigley Field.

Millions of state dollars for sick children.

State contracts and legislation.

To Gov. Rod Blagojevich, all of it was for sale to the highest bidder as he sought to build his personal wealth and maintain political power, federal prosecutors say.

"Gov. Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in announcing two felony counts against the sitting governor.

The 51-year-old, two-term governor was arrested early Tuesday morning and bonded out in the afternoon, leaving the federal courthouse flanked by his state security team as top Illinois politicians called on him to resign or at least, in the words of his lieutenant governor, Patrick Quinn, to "step aside" as well as debated impeachment and moved to strip him of certain powers.

Blagojevichs chief of staff,

John Harris, was arrested and also charged with wire fraud and bribery, which can bring a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Blagojevichs attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, told reporters the governor "believes that he didnt do anything wrong and he asks that the people of Illinois have some faith."

The governors office issued a statement saying the "allegations do nothing to impact the services, duties or function of the state."

The charges stem from years of investigation, dating back to Blagojevichs first run for governor in 2002, which culminated in a month of wire taps on Blagojevichs home phone and campaign office on Chicagos North Side.

Transcripts of the recordings show the governor apparently juggling multiple illegal schemes, including:

* Auctioning off President-elect Barack Obamas vacant Senate seat for campaign cash, a lucrative job, a federal appointment or well-paid work for his wife.

* Strong-arming massive campaign donations from a horse racing insider seeking legislation for racetracks, a state highway contractor and the executive director of Childrens Memorial Hospital hoping for an $8 million state grant.

* Prevailing upon Chicago Tribune executives to fire editorial board members who have been critical of Blagojevich in exchange for state help selling Wrigley Field.

Fitzgerald said the expletive-laden recordings of the governor, his staff and his wife so rattled prosecutors that they decided to move forward with charges abruptly to stop what Fitzgerald called a "political corruption crime spree."

Wiretaps were still running on the governor as recently as last week.

The criminal complaint filed Tuesday paints the picture of a governor jumping from phone calls to staff meetings to plot how to wring personal gain from taxpayer money and his public authority.

Blagojevich is repeatedly quoted in the complaint as voicing concern about making a large salary after leaving office, raising campaign cash, avoiding impeachment and even remaking his tarnished image for a presidential run in 2016.

The rampant corruption allegedly carried on despite the conviction of former Gov. George Ryan whom Blagojevich vilified in his campaigns the recent conviction of a key Blagojevich fundraiser, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, and numerous well-known ongoing investigations of the governors office.

"You might have thought in that environment that pay-to-play would slow down," Fitzgerald said. "The opposite happened; it sped up."

The secret recordings of Blagojevich are sure to act as the cornerstone of any future trial of Blagojevich, though one is not expected for months.

Of the charges, Fitzgerald called Blagojevichs alleged move to sell Obamas old Senate seat the "most appalling."

Blagojevich still has the sole power to appoint someone to fill Obamas remaining two years in office, but Senate President Emil Jones Jr.

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