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Uncomfortable spotlight shone on Patti Blagojevich
Even before her voice was heard on covert recordings made by federal investigators, First Lady Patricia Blagojevich was neck-deep in the federal probe of her husband and his administration.
Once a residential real estate broker on the North Side, Patricia Blagojevich left that career this year amid scrutiny from the Tribune and federal agents who have for a year been examining whether clients hired her to win favor from her husband's administration.
But her decision to change careers didn't seem to slow the investigation, which sped up in recent weeks after federal agents tapped the Blagojevich's phones and caught the first lady joining her husband on calls in which he talked about how his authority to pick President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate could be leveraged to help find her a seat on paid corporate boards.
Before that, though, federal agents—following years of news coverage—were probing hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions Patricia Blagojevich earned in previous years as a real estate broker for political supporters, fundraisers and state contractors.
A year ago, one real estate agent told the Tribune that FBI agents contacted her with questions about her involvement with Patricia Blagojevich in the 2004 sale of a $3.2 million Gold Coast home. The seller was an investment banker and contributor to the governor's campaign fund who hired the first lady as his second agent on the deal.
That was only the most recent example. Patricia Blagojevich had an eight-year working relationship with Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a onetime powerful developer and Blagojevich fundraiser who was found guilty this summer on influence-peddling charges.
A Tribune analysis this year found that Blagojevich's real estate company, River Realty, made more than $700,000 in commissions after her husband began raising money in 2000 for his first run for governor. Of those commissions, more than three-quarters came from clients with connections, the newspaper found.
After all but leaving real estate behind, Patricia Blagojevich in recent months tried her hand at investment banking. She worked at a boutique Chicago firm, North Star, but never made a sale and left. In September, she took a job as a full-time fundraiser for the Chicago Christian Industrial League, a job she still holds, said CCIL spokeswoman Jenny Brandhorst.
Now Blagojevich finds herself with even more legal problems because her voice is heard on the phone calls that FBI agents overheard with a federal wiretap.
In the 78-page federal criminal complaint filed against her husband, prosecutors said Patricia Blagojevich helped her husband with his plans to sell the Senate seat and in the process talked about trying to get herself a profitable spot on a corporate board. But much of the media attention has focused on her profanity-laced comments, captured on the federal recordings, in which she encouraged her husband to try to get Chicago Tribune editorial writers fired as part of the state's ongoing negotiations with the Tribune Co., which was trying to get state help selling Wrigley Field. Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune, also owns the Chicago Cubs.
"Hold up that [expletive] Cubs [expletive]," she is quoted as saying in the background. "[Expletive] them."
Her appearance on the tapes adds a layer of complexity to an already convoluted legal situation.
One legal scholar said the privilege spouses have protecting them from testifying against their husband or wife does not apply when the spouse is part of the conspiracy. Whether Patricia Blagojevich would be considered part of the conspiracy as the result of the conversation made on tape would have to be determined by a court, said Paul Stancil, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law.
"But that's a tough argument to assert," he said.
Stancil, though, said if Patricia Blagojevich wants to testify against her husband, she could waive the privilege voluntarily.
"That's the more interesting and more troubling aspect for [the governor]," he said.