On a 1999 flight from Kosovo to Washington, D.C. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, then a US congressman, confers with his chief of staff John Wyma. Also pictured are Jesse Jackson and James Meeks. Photo by John H. White-Sun-Times
John Wyma had known Rod Blagojevich for decades. He was his chief of staff in congress, and a longtime fixture in the governor’s inner circle.
In the fall of 2008, he went to the FBI. He was facing problems himself. And he didn’t like some of what he had been seeing at Blago central.
"I reported the information to the government," Wyma said from the witness stand Thursday, although he declared that he drew the line at wearing a wire on his longtime friend.
"I found it distasteful."
Wyma testified that he had a front row seat for a series of Blagojevich’s alleged shakedowns: a north side school which wanted a state grant; Illinois roadbuilders, targeted for fundraising as they hoped for business on a big tollway project; and in what he described as something of a last straw, an alleged effort to squeeze campaign contributions out of the chairman of Children’s Memorial Hospital.
To be certain, Wyma had already received a subpoena of his own, to appear before a grand jury as part of an ongoing federal investigation of scandals at the state hospital planning board. But he said he was anxious to tell what he knew.
"It accelerated my desire to talk to the government," he said.
Testifying under a grant of immunity, Wyma said it was his understanding that Blagojevich tried to withhold a state grant from a north side school, because he wanted then-congressman Rahm Emanuel’s brother to hold a fundraiser for him in Hollywood.
"I thought it was wrong to ask him for money, when aid was being dangled."
In early October, Wyma said Blagojevich told him about a phone call from former Cubs manager Dusty Baker. Baker was on the board at Children’s Memorial Hospital, and was encouraging Blagojevich to increase the Medicaid compensation for pediatric doctors in Illinois.
"He said Dusty called. That he was going to give the hospital $8 million. And he wanted me to get Pat McGoon for 50."
McGoon was the Children’s chairman. And the “50”, Wyma said, was $50,000.
Wyma said he tried to tell Blagojevich that the request would be impossible, because Children’s is a not for profit facility which could not make such contributions. Besides, he said, McGoon could never be expected to come up with such a big amount.
It was the Children’s incident, Wyma said, which caused him to go to the FBI.
After court, Blagojevich lamented the fact that still another of his former friends had chosen to cooperate with the federal government.
"John Wyma was someone who I thought was a close and good friend," Blagojevich said. "To see him lie like he’s lying, understanding that he’s doing it because he’s compelled to do it because he might have done something wrong, and he’s afraid that he’s gonna get prosecuted doesn’t take away the sadness that you feel. Because this guy is someone that you once thought was a good friend."