8/18/2014: Ruling comes in an ongoing case, between several casinos and John Johnston, the owner of Balmoral Racecourse. Phil Rogers reports for NBC 5 Investigates.
Judges at the Court of Appeals say there is adequate evidence to support an allegation that in 2008, Rod Blagojevich agreed to sign a bill benefiting the Illinois racing industry in exchange for a bribe.
The ruling did not come in Blagojevich’s actual appeal, which is currently before the court. Rather, it was in an ongoing case, between several casinos and John Johnston, the owner of Balmoral Racecourse.
That suit was previously dismissed by a lower court. But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it this week, saying the casinos should be allowed to prove their claim.
At issue is an allegation that Blagojevich maneuvered to receive a $100,000 campaign contribution in exchange for his signature on a bill which designated 3 percent of casino revenues for the state’s beleaguered racing industry.
“We conclude that there was enough to survive summary judgment on the claim that the governor agreed to sign the ’08 Act, in exchange for a bribe,” the judges wrote. “A reasonable juror could conclude that the race tracks agreed to pay $100,000 to Blagojevich’s campaign fund in exchange for his signature…”
During the former governor’s second trial, jurors heard undercover tapes, where Johnston told former Blagojevich aide Lon Monk how badly he needed the bill signed.
“How much is it a day that you’re losing right now by him not signing it?” Monk asked.
“Our group is nine thousand a day,” Johnston replied.
The very next day, Blagojevich was heard on the FBI wire, discussing strategy with Monk about the best way to secure the Johnston donation.
“You could just say, ‘He could sign the bill right after the first of the year,’ I think you just say that,” Blagojevich said. “’He’s going to sign all his bills, he’s doing all his bills,’ right?”
“No,” Monk replied, “I want to go with him without crossing the line and say, ‘Give us the f***ing money! Give us the money, and one has nothing to do with the other!”
The court noted that despite his promise, Johnston never actually delivered the money, and Blagojevich signed the bill after his arrest, which came just a few days after the taped conversations. The ruling notes that “Johnston signed an immunity agreement which represented that he ‘may have information relevant to the [Blagojevich] investigation,’ and acknowledged ‘that such information may tend to incriminate [himself].’”
Blagojevich and his attorneys always insisted that the racing bill and campaign contribution were never linked, and that the discussions taped by the FBI were merely strategy sessions on how best to make sure the two events were separated to avoid the appearance of impropriety.