Skip to comments.Blagojevich Probe Expands to Include Prison Closing
Posted on 12/26/2008 8:04:47 AM PST by BP2
The federal investigation of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has expanded to include his decision to shut a state-run maximum-security prison.
FBI agents and investigators from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgeralds office interviewed Illinois State Senator Dan Rutherford, whose district includes the Pontiac Correctional Center, about the circumstances surrounding Blagojevichs announcement in May that the facility would close, Rutherford said today.
Information came to me that caused me to pause, Rutherford, a Republican from Pontiac, said in a statement on his Web site. Since the closure of Pontiac was announced, it was obvious the decision was not made as a planned effort to improve the correctional system. He didnt give details.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, is charged with trying to auction the vacant U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama, and with pressuring state contractors, private institutions and the states largest newspaper for cash or other favors. State lawmakers began hearings last week to decide if Blagojevich should be impeached.
A report issued yesterday by Obamas transition team concluded that neither the president-elect nor his staff had inappropriate talks with Blagojevich or his office about filling the Senate seat.
Lucio Guerrero, a spokesman for Blagojevich, didnt immediately return a phone message left at his Chicago office.
Variety of Sources
Rutherfords Web site statement didnt say what kind of information he disclosed to investigators, though he said it came from a variety of sources. Phone messages left at his offices in Pontiac, a town of 12,000 about 100 miles (161 kilometers) south of Chicago, and the state capital of Springfield were not immediately returned.
Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Chicago, declined to comment.
Blagojevich said during a Dec. 19 meeting with reporters that he is innocent of the federal charges against him. He characterized the impeachment proceedings as a political lynch mob.
Blagojevich, a former prosecutor twice elected governor of the fifth-most populous state, said in May that he wanted to close the 137-year-old prison in Pontiac and move inmates to a newer facility to save $3.6 million a year.
Devastate the Economy
The bipartisan Illinois Commission of Government Forecasting and Accountability unanimously opposed the plan, saying that closing the prison would eliminate 569 jobs and devastate the local economy. The advisory bodys recommendations are not binding on the governors office.
The Pontiac prison was designed to hold about 1,100 prisoners, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections Web site. The prison is scheduled to close at the end of this month, the department told the guards union in letter in October.
Rutherfords statement urged corrections department officials, including Director Roger Walker, to tell federal investigators what they know about the decision to close the prison. A phone message left at Walkers office in Chicago wasnt immediately returned.
In another facet of the Blagojevich case, Bill Brandt, chief executive officer at Development Specialists Inc. and chairman of the Illinois Finance Authority, said the agency is actively cooperating with the prosecutors office probe.
Brandt said authority officials had discussions with the Tribune from August to early December about financing up to $275 million in bonds but the deal was never completed. Blagojevich didnt intervene in the talks, Brandt said. I never saw any signs of any of this in my talks with the Tribune.
Last Updated: December 24, 2008 15:47 EST
Illinois state Sen. Dan Rutherford says he has discussed concerns about the planned closure of the prison at Pontiac with the FBI and is asking others to come forward with information about “inappropriate activity” that may be tied to embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
“I am asking those who have knowledge of inappropriate activity surrounding this flawed decision (to close the state Pontiac Correctional Center) to provide information” to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, Rutherford, R-Chenoa, said Tuesday.
The senator said he has received information from various sources that “caused him pause” regarding the prison’s planned closure. Rutherford said he told Fitzgerald, who is prosecuting Blagojevich on federal corruption charges, about it and then met Nov. 10 with
He declined to say what he told the FBI.
Rutherford said he thinks the FBI is reviewing the information but he would not give specifics.
A spokesman for Fitzgerald declined comment on Rutherford’s statements. Calls to FBI offices in Springfield and Chicago were not returned.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, announced in May a plan to close the Pontiac prison and transfer half of the inmates to the new but largely unused prison in Thomson, Ill., north of the Quad-Cities, and the other half to various state prisons. It was said the plan would save $4 million annually, but opponents contend the closure would cost the central Illinois economy about $54 million.
Pontiac-area officials and the main union representing prison workers sued to stop the closure, which was scheduled for Dec. 31. The closure has been delayed at least until a Jan. 5 court hearing.
In the meantime, the governor was arrested Dec. 9. Fitzgerald said the arrest was necessary to prevent Blagojevich from, in effect, selling the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, D-Ill.
Rutherford said the arrest caused him even greater concern, prompting him to ask others to come forward with information.
“It became apparent to me that there is a lot more out there,” he added.
“It appears that corruption and conspiracy may have permeated even the most important public policy decisions,” he said. “An egregious example of this may have been (the governor’s) drive to shutter (Pontiac Correctional Center) or what it would have taken to keep it open.”
Rutherford asked assistants, upper-level administrators and Department of Corrections Director Roger Walker to come forward if they have relevant information.
DOC officials said Tuesday that they could not comment on Rutherford’s plea, but they added that the department continues to fight court cases delaying the Pontiac prison closure.
“We are at a standstill with the Pontiac closure,” DOC spokesman Derek Schnapp said.
In November, a Livingston County judge ordered the state to halt layoffs and worker transfers related to the prison closure until it negotiates how to proceed with union officials. A case in Johnson County, the site of the Vienna Correctional Center in southeast Illinois, is expected to be heard Jan. 5.
Tony Sapochetti of The Pantagraph, a Lee Enterprises newspaper based in Bloomington, Ill., can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at qctimes.com.
A lot of people here in Ilinois think it would be wonderful if Blagojevich ended up in Pantioc prison. Bitter sweet.
No pay for play?
Play to stay?
Looks to me like the IL Prison Guards union is taking advantage of the situation. I think most of us have learnt a thing or two about prison guards union shennanigans over the years (not just in CA).
What if this closure and transfer was the one thing Blago did that WASN’T corrupt?
Wouldn’t that be ironic, don’t you think?
It may be tied to a politician near the Thomson Correctional Center, the prison to which Pontiac Correctional Center would move. State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, is in the district of the Thomson Correctional Center; there are others, of course.
Another consideration would be some sort of pay-off through Blago’s wife, who's a real estate broker in Illinois (direct deal or broker referral fee). Remember, it was revealed last week that Blago's wife was the broker for Barack and Michelle Obama in the May 2005 house-flip:
For example, this from August 6, 2008:
Mill Creek Highlands is one of Clinton's newest housing communities. Inside one of the new homes, a crew is busy at work. It's a location that could attract incoming prison employees to Iowa.
“I didn't make the decision to build it on the Iowa line,” said Clinton realtor Dan Jefferies. “If they were concerned about it, they should have built it in central Illinois.”