'Lady Macbeth' of the Blago Scandal
Patricia "Patti" Blagojevich, the first lady of Illinois and the wife of scandal-plagued Gov. Rod Blagojevich, is a mother of two and a strong advocate for children in her home state, spending her free time promoting childhood literacy initiatives and gardening, according to her online biography.
But Patti Blagojevich is also a tough-talking, no-nonsense scion of a ward boss who is well versed in the rough-and-tumble world of Chicago politics, according to a federal criminal complaint charging her husband with bribery and conspiracy. Her portrayal as one of her husband's most ardent supporters in his elaborate "pay-to-play" schemes caused the Chicago Tribune to liken her to "Lady Macbeth."
During one exchange investigators caught on tape in which the governor discusses holding up the cash-strapped Tribune Co.'s plan to obtain state financing to help sell the Chicago Cubs, Patti Blagojevich can be heard in the background, telling one of her husband's three deputy governors what she thought, according to the criminal complaint.
According to excerpts of the tapes, she said "to hold up that (expletive) Cubs (expletive)...(expletive) them." (She later advised that Tribune owner Sam Zell could "just fire" editorial writers that the governor disagreed with, arguing that they were hurting business.)
The 43-year-old eldest daughter of longtime Chicago Alderman Richard Mell is no stranger to Chicago politics.
Patti Blagojevich, who holds a bachelors degree in economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is a licensed real estate broker and appraiser, and owned her own real estate company, River Realty, on Chicago's North Side.
A Chicago Tribune investigation revealed Patti Blagojevich earned more than $700,000 in commissions on deals after her husband began raising money in 2000 for his first gubernatorial campaign. Her most famous client was none other than Antoin "Tony" Rezko, the Chicago businessman and ex-fundraiser for President-elect Barack Obama. Rezko was convicted of corruption charges in June and is cooperating with investigators, according to the complaint. (At the time of her husband's arrest, she already was being investigated by federal agents for her real-estate dealings.)
Of the $700,000 in commissions she received, the Tribune found that more than 75 percent came from clients "with connections." Patti Blagojevich later worked as an investment banker, touting "her ability to land state business," according to the Tribune.
In September, she began working as a full-time fundraiser and development director for the Chicago Christian Industrial League, a job she got after a political ally of her husband's spoke to the non-profit's boss, according to the Tribune.
All the while, Patti and Rod Blagojevich had a chilly relationship with her father, Mell, who accused the governor of selling jobs in exchange for campaign contributions in 2002. He told the Associated Press that when he spoke with his daughter yesterday, it was the first time they had talked in "quite a while."
"She said she's going through a rough time," he said. "But she said, as rough as it is, what happened two years ago when her mother died was harder."
Her family has rallied to her aid, saying that the 76-page criminal complaint does not paint an accurate picture of Illinois' first lady.
"That is absolutely not my sister," state Rep.-elect Deborah Mell told the Chicago Sun-Times and NBC5. "Patti is a mother, a sister and a devoted wife. She is particularly protective of her family."
Patti Blagojevich is "loyal sometimes to a fault" and would "jump down (his) throat" when he argued with his son-in-law at holiday gatherings, her father said.
Tax records show that in 2007 the Blagojevich family's income dropped 17 percent from the previous year, to $214,580 in combined wages. (The governor earns $177,412 per year.) In court documents, Rod Blagojevich is portrayed as being worried about his family's finances, offering to make an appointment to Obama's Senate seat in exchange for his wife being placed on paid corporate boards.
In one conversation, the governor said that if his wife could get on the boards of some corporations and she "picks up another 150 grand a year or whatever," it would help him get through the next several years.
"The immediate challenge (is) how do we take some of the financial pressure off of our family," he is quoted as saying.
By Derek Kravitz |
December 11, 2008; 1:32 PM ET
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