Court Rules Blago and Racetracks Engaged in Bribery Scheme

But 7th circuit says there was no ongoing conspiracy

In a ruling proving that the ghosts of the Rod Blagojevich corruption case have very long tails, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a suburban racetrack owner did in fact, engage in a bribery scheme with then-governor Blagojevich in 2008, leaving intact a $25 million judgment against Illinois racetracks.  

But in that case, a group of Illinois casinos wanted the court to prove that a racketeering conspiracy existed, tripling the damages. And in that regard, the appellate court balked.

At issue, was racetrack owner John Johnston’s desire back in 2008, to have Blagojevich sign legislation mandating that a portion of the revenue from Illinois’ largest casinos be diverted to the state’s ailing horse racing industry. The casinos argued that Johnston’s efforts, aided by lobbyist and former Blagojevich aide Lon Monk, involved a quid pro quo to trade a $100,000 campaign contribution for the governor’s signature.

“Ample evidence shows that Monk and Blagojevich communicated to Johnson that Blagojevich would trade his signature on the 2008 act for a campaign contribution,” the court wrote in an opinion issued Tuesday. “The evidence certainly shows that Blagojevich’s regular way of conducting business involved bribery.”

The latter point was subject to question, even in the former governor’s two criminal trials. No evidence was ever presented that Blagojevich ever received a penny in bribery payments. But while the court ruled that enough evidence existed to leave intact a lower court’s award of $25,940,000 in damages, they rejected the casinos’ argument that a racketeering conspiracy existed.

“A one-time bribe to a corrupt public official is criminal and wrong,” they wrote. “But without more, it is not enough to prove a pattern of racketeering activity.”

The entire alleged scheme unraveled after Blagojevich’s December 2008 arrest. He signed the horse-racing bill, and no campaign contribution was ever made. Blagojevich is awaiting re-sentencing in his own case. That proceeding is set for next week.

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