Gov. Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested at their homes this morning in a probe involving the governor’s quest to fill Sen. Barack Obama’s Senate seat.
The charges also include alleged attempts by the governor to influence the Tribune editorial board.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich met with laid off workers at the Republic Window & Door Company yesterday. A source has told the Sun-Times that Blagojevich and hist chief of staff John Harris have been taken into federal custody. ...
The governor threatened that if the Tribune didn’t support the governor, he wouldn’t approve the sale of Wrigley Field.
The complaint contends Blagojevich threatened to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical of Blagojevich.
The governor is also accused of obtaining campaign contributions in exchange for official actions — both in the past and recently in a push before a new state ethics law takes effect Jan. 1.
Blagojevich, 51, and Harris, 46, both of Chicago, are each charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.
They were charged in a two-count criminal complaint that was sworn out on Sunday and unsealed today following their arrests, which occurred without incident, the feds said.
A 76-page FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month conspiring to sell or trade Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat vacated by Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife.
At various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment, Blagojevich allegedly discussed obtaining:
• A substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions.
• Placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year.
• Promises of campaign funds — including cash up front.
• A cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.
On Dec. 4, Blagojevich allegedly told an advisor that he might “get some (money) up front, maybe” from Senate Candidate 5, if he named Senate Candidate 5 to the Senate seat, to insure that Senate Candidate 5 kept a promise about raising money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election. In a recorded conversation on Oct. 31, Blagojevich claimed he was approached by an associate of Senate Candidate 5 as follows: “We were approached to ‘pay to play.’ That, you know, he’d raise 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator.”
On Nov. 7, while talking on the phone about the Senate seat with Harris and an advisor, Blagojevich said he needed to consider his family and that he is “financially” hurting, the complain states.
Harris allegedly said that they were considering what would help the “financial security” of the Blagojevich family and what will keep Blagojevich “politically viable.” Blagojevich stated, “I want to make money,” adding later that he is interested in making $250,000 to $300,000 a year, the complaint alleges.
On Nov. 10, in a lengthy telephone call with numerous advisors that included discussion about Blagojevich obtaining a lucrative job with a union-affiliated organization — in exchange for appointing a particular Senate Candidate whom he believed was favored by the President-elect — Blagojevich and others discussed various ways Blagojevich could “monetize” the relationships he has made as governor to make money after leaving that office, the complain alleges.
“The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said. “They allege that 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. The citizens of Illinois deserve public officials who act solely in the public’s interest, without putting a price tag on government appointments, contracts and decisions,” he added.
Robert Grant, in charge of the FBI office in Chicago, added: “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.”