DOJ Indicts Blagojevich on 16 Counts

Posted April 2, 2009 at 5:11pm

Updated: 6:55 p.m.A federal grand jury charged former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) Thursday with a 16-count felony indictment including charges of racketeering, conspiracy, false statements and extortion — including allegations that he sought to blackmail an unnamed Member to raise funds for his campaign.An attorney for the ex-governor said Blagojevich was innocent and would fight the charges. “We’re saddened but not surprised by the indictment,— attorney Sheldon Sorosky said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Gov. Blagojevich is innocent and will fight this in court.—According to a statement issued by the Justice Department, Blagojevich will be charged along with his brother, two former aides and two business associates.The indictment includes 19 counts, all but three of which apply to Blagojevich. He will be charged with 11 counts of wire fraud, two counts of attempted extortion and one count each of racketeering conspiracy, extortion conspiracy and making false statements.“Since 2002, even before he was first elected governor that November, and continuing until he was arrested on Dec. 9, 2008, former Illinois Gov. 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,— Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said in a statement. “He allegedly used his office in numerous matters involving state appointments, business, legislation and pension fund investments to seek or obtain such financial benefits as money, campaign contributions, and employment for himself and others, in exchange for official actions, including trying to leverage his authority to appoint a United States Senator,— Fitzgerald added.Among the allegations of extortion against Blagojevich are that the former House lawmaker attempted to blackmail an unnamed “Congressman A— in 2006, demanding a fundraiser in exchange for releasing state funds to a publicly supported school.“It was further part of the scheme that, in response to inquiries by a high-ranking state official as to whether the grant money could be released, defendant Rod Blagojevich informed that official that Rod Blagojevich wanted it communicated to United States Congressman A that the United States Congressman A’s brother needed to have a fundraiser for Blagojevich,— the indictment states.Blagojevich ultimately released some funds to the school for expenses it had incurred, although no fundraiser had been held, the indictment continues.In addition to Blagojevich, who was impeached and removed from office in January, the indictment names former Chief of Staff John Harris; former lobbyist Alonzo Monk, also a former Congressional, gubernatorial and campaign aide to Blagojevich; Blagojevich’s brother, Robert, one-time campaign fund chairman; businessman Christopher Kelly, also a Blagojevich fundraiser; and businessman William Cellini, also a Blagojevich fundraiser.No arraignment dates had been set as of Thursday.According to the Justice Department, charges of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and fraud conspiracy, extortion conspiracy and attempted extortion each carry a maximum prison term of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000. In addition, a conviction on charges of making false statements can result in a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000.Fellow Illinoisan Sen. Dick Durbin (D) said in a statement Thursday night: “We can only hope the former governor will not view this indictment as a green light for another publicity tour. Rod Blagojevich deserves his day in court, but the people of Illinois deserve a break.—