Blagojevich's Fundraising Shakedowns Detailed
What ultimately led to federal conspiracy and bribery charges against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (aside from well-placed wiretaps)? Federal agents say it wasn't the elaborate scheme for an ambassadorship or notions that he would sell President-elect Barack Obama's now-vacant Senate seat.
It was the shakedowns.
Since October, the FBI has conducted several interviews with longtime fundraiser John Wyma, chairman of the Friends of Blagojevich campaign committee (Wyma is dubbed "Individual A" in court documents - PDF). He told federal agents that the governor was making a strong push to collect at least $2.5 million in campaign cash by Jan. 1, when stricter new ethics laws take effect in Illinois.
With Wyma's help, federal agents allegedly caught the two-term governor not only trying to raise cash from wealthy donors in exchange for favors, but threatening to withhold state money and projects if he didn't get what he wanted.
At one point, Blagojevich allegedly instructed a lobbyist to approach and solicit $500,000 in campaign money from an unnamed highway contractor (The Chicago Sun-Times says at least one of the lobbyists the governor dealt with was former chief of staff Alonzo Monk). That highway contractor stood to benefit from a $1.8 billion project to build new interchanges and "green lanes" in Illinois, an initiative announced in October.
"I could have made a larger announcement but wanted to see how they perform by the end of the year," Blagojevich said, according to a federal wiretap quoted in the court documents. "If they don't perform, (expletive) 'em."
The contractor, only identified as "Highway Contractor 1," is said to be an officer with one of the largest suppliers of concrete in Illinois and heavily involved in the American Concrete Pavement Association, a concrete workers' group based in Skokie, Ill. Blagojevich also allegedly spoke with a former U.S. House member who was working with the governor to pass a capital bill worth billions of dollars in transportation-related improvement projects.
After mentioning the unnamed ex-congressional lawmaker, Blagojevich told the contractor to "call me if you need anything."
According to news reports, Blagojevich recruited two former congressman -- ex-House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and former Rep. Glenn Poshard (D-Ill.), president of Southern Illinois University -- to help out with the construction project. It is unclear if the unnamed lawmaker knew about Blagojevich's fundraising plans.
Randell C. Riley, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the concrete group, said today the references to the Illinois concrete industry and his organization came "as a complete surprise," adding that he did not know who the contractor is and was unaware of any suspected corruption in Illinois state politics.
It's unclear if the highway contractor ever gave money to Blagojevich's campaign.
Blagojevich also allegedly tried to get $50,000 from Patrick M. Magoon, chief executive officer of Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, in exchange for not rescinding $8 million in state funds for the hospital. The indictment says Magoon never contributed to Blagojevich's campaigns.
After news of the attempted shakedown surfaced, Children's Memorial released a statement saying the hospital "is very disappointed that the $8 million in Illinois funding that the pediatric providers of Illinois believed would enable them to care for Illinois' neediest children has been tied to an alleged pay-to-play scheme. If such allegations are true, Children's Memorial, pediatric physicians and the children of Illinois have been victimized."
One notable name found among the governor's alleged targets was John P. McCormick, the deputy editorial page editor for The Chicago Tribune. Blagojevich apparently singled McCormick out, demanding that he get fired.
It appears the governor thought the cash-strapped Tribune would be "driving" the impeachment process against him. His chief of staff, John Harris, said McCormick should be fired because he was the "most biased and unfair" of the paper's editorial writers. In return, Blagojevich allegedly offered to help, or hinder, the Tribune Co.'s attempts to sell the Chicago Cubs. The company, which recently declared Chapter 11, was seeking aid from the Illinois Finance Authority to ease the sale of the team's ballpark, Wrigley Field.
So, days later, Blagojevich was told about the firings of 11 staffers at the Tribune. When he found out McCormick wasn't one of them, he instructed an aide to tell his chief of staff.
"What's the deal? . . . McCormick stays at the Tribune, huh?"
McCormick told The Post's Howard Kurtz last night that he is "gratified" that the pressure "didn't work," even though the $150 million benefit being dangled on Wrigley Field was "a lot of enticement." The governor, he said, "is mad at an institution, and I'm a guy who types. There's a level of personal animosity there that I wouldn't have anticipated."
By Derek Kravitz |
December 10, 2008; 1:34 PM ET
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