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Zell 'Point Man' Identified as Blago Contact

POSTED: 03:43 PM ET, 12/12/2008 by Derek Kravitz

Tucked away among the jaw-dropping political bombshells in the 76-page corruption complaint filed against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is a reference to a mild-mannered "financial adviser" at the cash-strapped Tribune Co.

Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, had allegedly been applying a bit of pressure to the adviser, threatening to hold up the company's state financing plans and meddling with the sale of the Chicago Cubs baseball team unless he did something about the Tribune newspaper's "unfair" and "biased" editorial board.

During a Nov. 5 phone call between Blagojevich and Harris, the governor told his deputy to tell the adviser that "this is a serious thing now" and that the only "way around it" is to "have a discussion about what you guys are going to do about that newspaper."

The adviser said the editorial page was a delicate issue. But he got Blagojevich's message, Harris said, "loud and clear."

Blagojevich and Harris apparently were on a first-name basis with the "adviser" -- Nils.

In its Friday editions, the Tribune identified the unnamed official as Nils Larsen, a 38-year-old Tribune Co. executive described as a "financial whiz" and a chief deputy to owner Sam Zell.

Federal authorities have subpoenaed the Tribune and are looking for memos about possible firings or any changes to the newspaper's editorial board, a source told the paper.

In a profile in Crain's Chicago Business "40 Under 40" feature last year, Larsen was described as Zell's "point man in arranging and negotiating $11.2 billion in financing for the deal, scoping the future of Tribune's 23 television stations and running the sale of the Chicago Cubs."

An avid bicyclist, Larsen has been with Zell for more than a dozen years and apparently had his ear after a string of impressive business acquisitions. He also shared the Tribune Co. owner's "edge," the profile noted. A memento found in Larsen's office was an ax used to launch a barge into the Ohio River.

While it's unclear whether Larsen actually applied any pressure to get anyone on the Tribune's editorial staff fired (Blagojevich had specifically called for John P. McCormick to get axed), it appears he had been talking at some level with the governor and his aide.

It also should be noted that while Larsen hasn't personally given money to Blagojevich's campaigns, he has donated to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and the American Commercial Lines political action committee.

By Derek Kravitz |  December 12, 2008; 3:43 PM ET Blagojevich Scandal
Previous: Missing Criminals, Miami Mortgage Fraud and the Military's $7.6M Powder | Next: The FBI's History of Wiretapping


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