Blago's Top Fundraiser Pleads Guilty

Impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich's former chief fundraiser pleaded guilty Friday to obstructing federal tax collectors by using corporate funds and money from third parties to pay thousands of dollars in gambling debts and personal expenses.

Christopher G. Kelly, 50, a south suburban roofer who formerly headed the Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund, also pleaded guilty to structuring financial transactions to hide them from the federal government.

In his 27-page plea agreement, Kelly admitted underreporting five years of income received by two businesses by a total of $496,358.

Kelly was a member of Blagojevich's inner circle as the governor set out on a course of corruption prosecutors say included using his office to squeeze companies and individuals seeking state business for campaign contributions and payoffs.

Kelly and convicted businessman Tony Rezko were among the closest advisers.

But Kelly is not accused of any involvement in the burgeoning political corruption case that has resulted in Rezko's conviction for influence-peddling and charges against Blagojevich that include scheming to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Barack Obama's election as president.

Blagojevich was impeached on Friday and now faces a trial in the Illinois Senate that could lead to his removal from office. He has denied any wrongdoing.

When Kelly is scheduled to be sentenced on April 24, he could get up to eight years in prison.

His plea agreement did not call for cooperation on his part in the Blagojevich investigation -- something that might have gotten him a break.

Wearing a dark suit but tieless and open at the collar, Kelly appeared relaxed, smiling to reporters but leaving the comments to defense attorney Michael D. Monico.

Monico told reporters that Kelly "is contrite and will express his contrition," apparently at the sentencing.

"He is prepared to accept the consequences of his conduct," Monico said.

Federal prosecutors -- the same ones assigned to the Blagojevich case -- would have no comment, government spokesman Randall Samborn said.

Kelly placed wagers with a bookie identified only as Individual A, according to the plea agreement. It said he used corporate funds from his BCI Roofing Co. to pay for losing wagers and once, in about September 2004, caused a $150,000 gambling debt paid to the bookie to be recorded as a loan from BCI.

It said that he also used corporate funds to pay debts he incurred at Las Vegas casinos and once, in about November 2001, hid the use of corporate funds to pay a $147,000 casino debt by having it described as a business expense for tax purposes.

Kelly used some $700,000 in company funds to help pay for a home in December 2004 and failed to report it on his individual tax returns, the document said.

He also used corporate funds to pay for moving, home electronics, landscaping, home theater equipment, jewelry, draperies, hardwood floors, tree removal, motorcycle costs, a dining room table, a patio table, furnace costs and other items ranging from insurance to automobile expenses, according to the agreement.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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