CHICAGO – A federal grand jury charged former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday with racketeering, extortion and fraud, opening a new chapter in the prosecution of the voluble Democrat who could spend years behind bars if convicted.
The 75-page indictment, which also charged Blagojevich’s brother and several close aides, describes a political operation designed from the beginning of his first term to strengthen the governor’s hold on power and make money that Blagojevich would receive after he left office.
Blagojevich, who was impeached and removed from office after his Dec. 9 arrest, was charged with 16 counts, including 11 counts of wire fraud, three counts of extortion and one count of lying to federal investigators.
He remains free on bond. No court hearing has been scheduled.
The criminal complaint charged Blagojevich with attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama and seeking the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial writers in return for state help on the sale of Wrigley Field.
The indictment charges that Blagojevich gave two friends, convicted developer Antoin Rezko and indicted businessman Christopher Kelly, significant authority over state boards and commissions, knowing they would profit from their roles.
In return, prosecutors contend, Rezko and Kelly generated millions in campaign contributions and provided “financial benefits” to Blagojevich and his family.
According to the indictment, Blagojevich began to profit from Rezko’s work early in the first of his two terms as governor. In August 2003, Rezko paid Blagojevich’s wife, Patty, $14,396 for a real estate deal in Chicago, although she had not performed any services.
The payments soon grew, rising to $12,000 a month for a stretch of time in 2003 and 2004 for real estate brokerage services. He also allegedly gave her $40,000 in January 2004 for brokerage services, although her role was minor, prosecutors contend.
Rezko also allegedly gave Blagojevich’s former counsel and chief of staff, Lon Monk, a series of $10,000 payments totaling $70,000 to $90,000.
Monk was charged in the indictment. Also charged was Blagojevich’s brother Robert, who became chairman of the governor’s campaign fund in August.
Another former chief of staff, John Harris, and businessmen Christopher Kelly and William Cellini, were also charged.
Ousted from office and replaced by Democratic Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, Blagojevich signed a book deal. As recently as last week, he hosted a Chicago radio show to say that he was “hijacked” from office by his political foes.