Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois impeached in January after being accused of trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant US Senate seat, was formally charged by federal authorities on Thursday on a range of felonies, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, and attempted extortion.
“Since 2002, even before he was first elected governor that November, and continuing until he was arrested on December 9, 2008, former Illinois Governor 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,” said the office of Patrick Fitzgerald, the campaigning US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois who has spearheaded the probe into Mr Blagojevich.
The indictment reiterated the charge that the former governor conspired to sell or trade Illinois’ US Senate seat formerly held by Mr Obama and that he tried to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions. It also contains the allegations first made in December that he threatened to withhold state financial assistance from the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field, the stadium of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, unless the company sacked Chicago Tribune editorial board members who had criticised Mr Blagojevich.
The indictment also adds several new allegations, accusing Mr Blagojevich of plotting to use his office for financial gain as far back as 2002, when he was first elected. It accuses him of directing lucrative state business relating to the refinancing Illinois pension bonds to companies in return for kickbacks, delaying money for a state-supported school until a fundraiser was held for him and lying to FBI agents about his finances.
Mr Blagojevich has repeatedly denied all the accusations, saying he will prove his innocence in court.
The indictment seeks forfeiture of $188,370 from Mr Blagojevich as proceeds of the alleged fraud scheme and racketeering activity, and lists Blagojevich’s apartment in Washington, DC and his Chicago home as substitute assets.
Mr Blagojevich’s brother Robert, two of his senior staff and two local businessmen were also indicted along with the disgraced former governor. The six accused will appear in federal court in Chicago, although the date for their arraignment has not yet been set.
The indictment also stresses the involvement of Antoin Rezko, the Chicago businessman who was a fundraiser for both Mr Blagojevich and Mr Obama, and who was convicted last year on fraud and bribery charges.
The charges accuse the former governor of letting Mr Rezko and Christopher Kelly, another local businessman and fundraiser for Mr Blagojevich, to make key appointments in return for kickbacks.
“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,” said Mr Fitzgerald’s office. “In return, Kelly and Rezko allegedly benefited Blagojevich by generating millions of dollars in campaign contributions and providing financial benefits directly to Blagojevich and his family.”
In one case detailed in the indictment, an unnamed lobbyist met Mr Kelly to ask if two of his clients could be appointed investment managers for the Illinois Teachers Retirement System (TRS) pension fund. Mr Kelly told the lobbyist he would speak to Mr Rezko, and reported back that it would require a $50,000 campaign contribution to Mr Blagojevich for a firm to get on TRS’s list of recommended fund managers.
In another case, Capri Capital, a Chicago real-estate investment company, was told than unless it raised significant political contributions for the former governor, it would not receive a proposed $220m investment from TRS.
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