(I do not see this as a reflection on Barack Obama - doubtless many here will)
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff were arrested in Chicago Tuesday on two counts each of corruption charges relating to trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested Tuesday morning in Chicago on two counts each of federal corruption charges stemming from allegations Blagojevich was trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder.
The arrest is part of a three-year probe of "pay-to-play politics" in the governor's administration. The criminal complaint by the FBI says each man was arrested on two charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.
The charges also relate to allegations that Blagojevich and Harris schemed with previously convicted defendants and Obama associates Antoin Rezko, Stuart Levine, Ali Ata and others to arrange financial benefits in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state employment, state contracts and access to state funds.
Blagojevich and Harris will have an initial appearance in U.S. District Court Tuesday.
A statement by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Grant said Blagojevich and Harris "allegedly conspired to sell U.S. Senate appointment, engaged in pay-to-play schemes and threatened to withhold state assistance to Tribune Company for Wrigley Field to induce purge of newspaper editorial writers."
"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," Fitzgerald said in a statement.
"Blagojevich put a for sale sign on the naming of a United States Senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism," he added.
Grant noted that Blagojevich was elected in 2002 after Illinois Gov. George Ryan retired in the face of federal corruption charges. He was convicted and sentenced in 2006 to six and a half years in prison.
"Many, including myself, thought that the recent conviction of a former governor would usher in a new era of honesty and reform in Illinois politics. Clearly, the charges announced today reveal that the office of the Governor has become nothing more than a vehicle for self-enrichment, unrestricted by party affiliation and taking Illinois politics to a new low," Grant said.
Federal authorities were permitted by a judge to record the governor secretly before the November election after raising concerns that a replacement for Obama would be tainted.
Fitzgerald's office said the 76-page FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was taped conspiring to sell or trade Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife, including an annual salary of $250,000-$300,000 at a nonprofit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions.
They also allege Blagojevich is heard on tape demanding a corporate board seat for his wife worth as much as $150,000 a year; promises of campaign funds, including cash up front; and a Cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.
The Chicago Tribune was first to report the arrests. Informed Monday of the wiretap, Blagojevich told reporters that his discussions were "always lawful" and he defended a close confidant, John Wyma, who turned on him. Wyma as "an honest person who's conducted himself in an honest way," Blagojevich said.
"I should say if anybody wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead, feel free to do it," he said.
However, the Tribune was also named in the affidavit because tapes allegedly play Blagojevich directing Harris to inform the newspaper's owners and advisers that "state financial assistance would be withheld unless members of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board were fired, primarily because Blagojevich viewed them as driving discussion of his possible impeachment."
The Tribune Company, which declared bankruptcy on Monday, owns the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Cubs, and had explored the possibility of obtaining assistance from the Illinois Finance Authority as part of the effort to sell the Cubs and finance the sale of Wrigley Field.
Conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Solicitation of bribery carries a maximum of 10 years in prison. Both carry a maximum fine of $250,000.
Click to view image: 'Governor Blagejevich at worker sit in'
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