Skip to comments.Indictment in governorís circle (Blagojevich - Illinois)
Posted on 10/13/2006 4:42:27 PM PDT by Lando Lincoln
Four weeks before Gov. Rod Blagojevich stands for re-election, federal prosecutors Wednesday indicted his top campaign fundraiser in what they called a pay-to-play scheme on steroids aimed at extorting millions from firms that wanted business from the states teacher pension system.
Blagojevich denied knowledge of the alleged scheme, saying he does not expect to be indicted in the next four years and feels a tremendous sense of personal betrayal if the allegations against 51-year-old Wilmette businessman Antoin Tony Rezko prove true.
If these allegations are true, its a violation of my trust and its more important a violation of the public trust, said a subdued Blagojevich at a hastily arranged news conference at his Chicago campaign office. Any wrongdoing must be punished.
Republican opponent Judy Baar Topinka called Rezko Blagojevichs right-hand man and said voters have an alternative in her.
Now its a hint no longer. ... This guy is so close to him. Theyre the next best thing to Siamese twins, she said in downstate Lincoln.
The explosive allegations mark the latest corruption scandal Blagojevich will have to overcome if hes to convince voters Nov. 7 that he deserves a second term. Federal prosecutors already are looking into what they say are very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud under Blagojevich. The governor also has had to explain why he took a $1,500 birthday check for his daughter from a lifelong friend around the same time he got the friends wife a state job.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald accused Rezko, also a one-time business partner of the governors wife, of engaging in a pay-to-play scheme on steroids because instead of the hundreds of thousands of dollars involved in Gov. George Ryans corruption conviction, Rezko is accused of shaking down firms for millions in a feeding frenzy.
Fitzgerald said the closeness of the coming election didnt factor into his decision to bring charges.
Were not going to stop momentum or take a siesta for election season. Were just going to bring the cases when theyre ready to go, he said. Were not doing it for political reasons, and were not going to not do it for political reasons.
Fitzgerald also refused to say whether Blagojevich was a target of a probe that FBI Chicago chief Robert Grant called a gathering storm of an investigation with a goal of rooting out the parasites that have plagued our public institutions.
The Rezko indictment ensnared the governors top fund-raiser, who prosecutors said used his access to high-level public officials to work his scheme. The indictment alleges Rezko contacted a state employee who dealt with reappointments to boards and commissions and got Stuart Levine, Rezkos co-defendant who plans to plead guilty, appointed once again to the Teachers Retirement System board so the two could shake down firms that wanted state investments. Blagojevich was the one who ultimately reappointed Levine, but he said he had no idea how Rezko was allegedly able to make that happen.
Prosecutors also allege Rezko and Levine worked to get two others appointed to the board so they could vote Levines way on investment decisions. Those members, according to a source close to the investigation, are attorney Tony Abboud and Chicago attorney Jack Carriglio, whose law firms are donors to the governors campaign fund. Abboud is no longer listed as a board member.
And prosecutors said Rezko and Levine teamed up to try to block a proposed merger of several state employee retirement boards. Blagojevich eventually dropped the proposal after his administration tried unsuccessfully to convince teacher unions it was a good idea.
According to the indictment, Rezko and Levine sought a $1.5 million campaign contribution to a certain public official from an investment firm in return for pushing through a $220 million investment deal. Blagojevich said the first he heard about the contribution solicitation was Wednesday, and he pointed out the firm has not donated to his campaign.
Rezko and Blagojevich have ties that go back to at least 1997, when Rezko and Illinois first lady Patricia Blagojevich, who owns a real estate company, formed a business relationship. The governors wife reported nearly $39,000 in income from Rezko-related transactions on the familys 2004 tax returns.
As Blagojevich ran for governor, Rezko became one of his top fundraisers and organized at least two campaign events at the Field Museum where he could be seen working the room greeting political donors. Rezko has given nearly $50,000 to Blagojevichs campaign fund himself. The governor said hell donate about $60,000 to $70,000 in Rezko-related donations to charity. But political observers long have said Rezko has helped raised millions for Blagojevichs record-setting campaign fund.
Blagojevich also acknowledged Rezko recommended many people for top-level jobs in his administration.
As reported in the Daily Herald in August, Blagojevich amended his financial disclosure forms to reflect gifts of at least $500 from Rezko each year. Blagojevich said Wednesday those gifts amounted to a baptism gift for his daughter born in 2003 and a few dinners.
Rezkos name first surfaced in connection with the shakedown scheme during a plea agreement related to the teachers pension board scandal late last summer. Rezko and another top Blagojevich fund-raiser, Christopher Kelly, a Frankfort roofing contractor, were alleged to have engaged in a contracts-for-contributions scheme, according to sources. At the time, Blagojevich told reporters he has confidence they (Rezko and Kelly) do things right.
The indictment of an operative so close to Blagojevich likely will cause an already highly negative governors race to sink further into the muck of corruption charges and counter-charges. Political analysts were split over whether Topinka, whos been trailing in the polls by about 10 percentage points, can capitalize on the charges.
If the Republicans had a candidate and a credible campaign theyd make hay out of it right away but the campaigns been so lousy, said Chris Mooney, director of the legislative studies program at the University of Illinois Springfield campus.
Kent Redfield, a political scientist at the same school, said the events could provide a boost.
It revives a campaign that most people had given up on, said Redfield, who studies Illinois campaigns. They still have to make her (Topinka) an acceptable alternative.
Blagojevich has millions of dollars in his campaign fund, and six months of negative ads with the theme Whats she thinking? already have driven up voters negative impressions of Topinka. Blagojevich can continue to run those ads and, as some of them have done already, tie Topinka to her one-time political ally, convicted ex-Gov. George Ryan.
In addition, Levine is a longtime top Republican donor who gave nearly $1 million to 2002 Republican governor nominee Jim Ryan, so voters might think the scandal a bi-partisan one. Republican powerhouse Bill Cellini of Springfield, whose name surfaced in connection with Levines and Rezkos attempt to solicit the $1.5 million contribution, has past ties to Topinka. She tried to settle a failed state hotel loan that would have benefited Cellini and fellow investors more than a decade ago before then-Attorney General Jim Ryan blocked it.
At any rate, the Rezko charges likely will dominate the rest of the campaign. Theyre likely to resurface at the end of the month when Levine pleads guilty to his role in the scandal just a week before the election. And if Rezko doesnt come back from his business travels abroad to face charges, that could provide further embarrassment to the governor.
Blago's little 7 YEAR old daughter got a check for $1500.00 form someone who Blago gave his wife a govt job!!
Fitz is trying to cover his tracks already laid down in DC.
Corruption in Illinois? You gotta be fecesing me.
This race would be EASILY winnable if we hadn't nominated a far-left RINO pro-abortion-fanatic. The Illinois GOP is even stupider than the NY GOP.
I grew up in Illinois, and am saddened to see a once reliably red state going to the loony left.
Blago is one mediocre govenor but Topinka
can't muster any enthusiam among voters.
This is sad we're really up the creek in Illinois.
Was there ever a time when Illinois wasn't run by crooks?
The "windy city" fits the whole state!
If Blago wins, can he be recalled? It worked in California.
A "subdued Blago", as in, "WE SURE WOULDN'T WANT TO AWAKEN TO ANY WHISTLE-BLOWER TENDENCIES, OR MAKE THE LAD MAD BY ACTING TOO SELF-RIGHTEOUS, NOW WOULD WE?"
Not quite Fitzmas....Fitznakah, maybe?
Ditto that. I'm even voting for smug RINO Tony Peracia because he'd be an improvement over Toddler Stroger (unlike Judy, at least Tony's not a backstabbing traitor)
Rod & Judy's ads say nothing positive about themselves, but simply why their opponent is a crook and unfit to serve as Governor. They'll be happy to know they've convinced me that their opponent sucks. No way in hell will I vote for either of 'em.
The IL GOP got me to vote for my first Dem in 20 years last time around. I pulled the lever for Poshard the pro-life pro-gun Dem. I've never regretted that vote.
He came within a whisker of beating Ryan, too. Pity he didn't. Maybe not. Now I get to see Lyin' Ryan frogmarched into a Federal pen.
There's some major satisfaction in that.
Topinka reminds me of the one relative in every family that you would love to uninvite to family gatherings. But hey, she reflects both the state and the face of Republican politics in the State of Illinois, and it is not very pretty.
Yes, but as with corrupt Dems in NJ and elsewhere, Reid ahem, the Dems seem to survive and their voters pull the lever with the MSM's help. Ill. is trending Dem. If Rod loses, it will be a miracle so tell the GOP to get that turnout downstate to overcome voter fraud that you know will occur in Chicago and the county.
At this rate we'll somehow end up with a Greenie as the best candidate in 2010.