Blago's Former Fundraiser Pleads Not Guilty to Corruption

Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich's former chief fundraiser pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges he paid kickbacks in exchange for millions of dollars in inflated contracts for roofing work at O'Hare International Airport.

Christopher G. Kelly, 50, is accused of paying an unnamed consultant $450,000 in kickbacks to get $8.5 million in inflated contracts from United Airlines and American Airlines. The consultant made cost estimates, according to an indictment. Neither airline is accused of any wrongdoing.

Kelly allegedly used $1.1 million in fraudulently obtained proceeds to pay personal expenses, including $383,000 in gambling debts, the indictment said.

The charges effectively turn up the heat on Kelly to help prosecutors in their investigation of corruption under Blagojevich, who is accused of plotting to sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant President Barack Obama, among other misdeeds.

Kelly pleaded guilty last month to other charges of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service by using corporate funds and money from third parties to pay thousands of dollars in gambling debts and personal expenses.

Prosecutors working to draw up a corruption indictment against Blagojevich would plainly like to have Kelly on their side, spilling what he knows about the governor's campaign finances and other matters.

Kelly was at one time the chairman of the Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund and also was a close adviser to the former governor.

But Kelly's plea agreement on the tax charge contained no pledge to cooperate with the government in its investigation of Blagojevich.

The new charges against Kelly, alleging O'Hare payoffs, effectively turn up the heat on him because he would most likely face more prison time if convicted.

Blagojevich is charged in a criminal complaint filed by prosecutors Dec. 9 with plotting to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat, illegally squeezing businesses for campaign money and pressuring the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who at the time were calling for his impeachment.

Also charged in the case is Kelly's company, BCI Roofing. Attorney Michael Monico entered a not guilty plea on behalf of the company. Kelly is free on a $4,500 recognizance bond. U.S. District Judge Charles R. Norgle set another hearing for March 10.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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