Read the Blago Fine Print

Substance of charges in 76-page affidavit

We often forget to do it, even though we know we should. Read the fine print, that is.

So it is with the corruption charges against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, which focus on much more than the claim that he tried to sell or trade Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat.
That charge is the cream. But the meat and potatoes are buried deep within a 76-page affidavit prosecutors tacked onto the charges, and they have a familiar look.
Evidence of clout, fixed contracts and illegal campaign fundraising -- the basic staples of the corruption in Illinois -- proved persuasive with the jury at influence peddler Tony Rezko's fraud trial. He was convicted and awaits sentencing. That same evidence is now coming back to bite Blagojevich.
This time around it could be even stronger because Rezko -- the same political fundraiser who helped to bankroll the campaigns of both Blagojevich and Obama -- may take the stand to point the finger at the governor whose drive to power he financed.
Rezko, for example, was on hand while Blagojevich talked to a campaign donor about putting him on the state payroll with the donor's $25,000 check on the table, according to testimony at Rezko's trial.
Blagojevich has been in the national spotlight since his arrest two weeks ago, with a criminal complaint alleging he was caught on secretly recorded phone calls talking about money or favors he could get in return for his power to appoint someone to Obama's seat. The seat remains vacant, and the Democrat-controlled legislature went home this week without taking up a bill to have a special election to fill it.
The governor strongly proclaimed his innocence on Friday, appearing before reporters to declare he is "not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing." He did not take questions.
"I will fight, I will fight, I will fight until I take my last breath," Blagojevich said. "I have done nothing wrong, and I'm not going to quit a job the people hired me to do because of false accusations and political lynch mob."
His attorney, Ed Genson, spent the week shooting down the federal case, claiming the federal wiretaps used to capture his conversations are illegal and dismissing his discussions about the Senate seat as just talk.
"There's no evidence that anyone ever asked anybody for  anything with regard to that seat," Genson said as a legislative impeachment panel began considering whether to try to remove Blagojevich from office.
Legal experts such as Professor Leonard L. Cavise of DePaul University say the government may have a long way to go before they have all the evidence they need that Blagojevich tried to trade or sell the Senate seat. But some say the tale of corruption coming from the witness stand at Rezko's trial is much firmer.
"All that stuff has been investigated for years, all that stuff is pretty much tried and true," Cavise says.
Blagojevich, 52, was arrested by FBI agents Dec. 9 and charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and solicitation to commit bribery.
The first charge alleges he defrauded the people of Illinois of his honest services as governor and it ties together the material from the Rezko trial and the allegations concerning the Senate seat.
The second charge alleges he sought to use his economic power as governor to force the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers calling for his impeachment.
Genson gave a peek into the defense case when he argued that the legislative impeachment panel should not consider the statements of Ali Ata and Joseph Cari, who were caught up in the federal investigation and, in their guilty pleas, alleged Blagojevich talked with them about trading jobs for campaign donations.
"Mr. Ata is a convicted perjurer," Genson said. "Mr. Cari is an extortionist."
Both could be witnesses if Blagojevich goes to trial.
There is no certainty Rezko will take the witness stand, but if he did, he would be the star witness. He was a top fundraiser for Blagojevich and part of his inner circle.
At the moment, he is believed to be trying to make a deal with prosecutors that would provide him with a break at sentencing but has had trouble doing so. Making a deal is in his interest. He is facing years in prison for his conviction in June on charges of plotting to squeeze several firms for kickbacks.
And he's due to go to trial early next year on charges of swindling the G.E. Capital Corp. out of $10 million in the sale of a group of pizza restaurants.
Rezko already has told prosecutors his version of what they say was a plot to stack the Illinois Health Facilities Planning and ram through a major expansion program for Mercy Hospital in return for a major contribution to Blagojevich's campaign fund. It's one of many examples they have investigated of alleged job and favor trading for campaign contributions.
The board, which has life and death power over millions of dollars in hospital expansions, approved the Mercy plan, but it was later killed in a civil lawsuit.
"Rezko has admitted that he manipulated the Mercy vote based on Mercy's agreement to make a contribution to Blagojevich, which agreement he states was communicated to Blagojevich," prosecutors say in the affidavit filed in the governor's case.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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