Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and five others were indicted Thursday with scheming to auction off President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat, pressuring a congressman for campaign money and lying to FBI agents.
Blagojevich was charged in a 19-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury today, accusing the impeached governor of "pervasive fraud" that began even before he was elected to his first term. The government claims Blago and his co-conspirators set out to make millions, which would be distributed once the governor left office.
In a new charge, the government claims Blagojevich tried to extort a congressman -- who NBC Chicago confirmed is now Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
Blagojevich is charged with 16 felony counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. The ex-governor's wife, Patti Blagojevich, was not charged -- but the government asserts that hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions and salary were funneled to her through Tony Rezko, though she did no work.
As the indictment was handed down, the disgraced governor was vacationing with his family at a resort in Florida.
The NBC station in Orlando, Fla., caught up with him at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.
"I'm enjoying Disney World with my kids," Blagojevich said while seated not far from the pool.
Through his PR firm, Blagojevich issued the following statement:
"I'm saddened and hurt but I am not surprised by the indictment. I am innocent. I now will fight in the courts to clear my name. I would ask the good people of Illinois to wait for the trial and afford me the presumption of innocence that they would give to all their friends and neighbors."
Reaction from Illinois politicians started pouring in the moment the U.S. Attorney hit "send" on his e-mail announcing the indictment. Sen. Dick Durbin, Gov. Pat Quinn, congressmen, even Blagojevich's opponent in the last gubernatorial election all said it won't be easy for Illinois to clean up the stain left by the ousted governor and his cronies.
Also charged as co-defendants in the indictment are: John Harris, 47, Blagojevich’s chief of staff; Alonzo Monk, 50, a lobbyist and a long-time Blagojevich associate; Robert Blagojevich, 53, the former governor's brother; Christopher Kelly, 50, a businessman and fundraiser who also served as chairman of Blagojevich’s campaign fund; William F. Cellini, Sr., 74, a businessman who also raised significant funds for Blagojevich.
From 2002, Blago conspired with Tony Rezko, Monk and Kelly to use the governor's office for financial gain, with the understanding that the proceeds would be split between them once Blagojevich left office, prosecutors allege.
Feds also charge that Blagojevich lied to investigators in 2005 about maintaining a "firewall" between politics and state business, and about not tracking the contributions to his campaigns.
In the extortion charge, Blagojevich allegedly planned to stop the funding of a school in Emanuel's district until Emanuel's brother held a big fundraiser for the governor. There is no evidence that the scheme ever got off the ground.
If he's convicted, prosecutors want Blagojevich to fork over all funds from his campaign committee, Friends of Blagojevich, as well as more than $188,000 of his personal money. If he doesn't have the cash, prosecutors say that's OK -- his apartment in Washington, D.C., and his home in Chicago will do.