Former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, his brother and a former top fundraiser were among six men indicted Thursday on political corruption charges, the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago announced.
The sweeping indictment comes four months after Blagojevich was arrested and charged with engaging in pay-to-play politics in a major federal complaint that accused the Democrat of trading state jobs, contracts and regulatory favors for campaign contributions.
The others indicted Thursday were Robert Blagojevich, 53; fundraiser Christopher Kelly, 50; Lon Monk, 50, a lobbyist and former Blagojevich chief of staff; John Harris, 47, also a former chief of staff to Blagojevich; and William Cellini, 74, an insider for decades in Springfield, the Illinois capital.
The December criminal complaint charged Blagojevich with attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat that was to be vacated by President-elect Barack Obama and with seeking the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial writers in return for state help on the sale of Wrigley Field. The ballpark and newspaper are owned by Tribune Co., which also owns the Los Angeles Times.
Thursday’s 19-count indictment -- which includes those accusations -- adds allegations that convicted insider Antoin “Tony” Rezko paid Monk cash for a car and home improvements and that he steered real estate commissions to former first lady Patti Blagojevich although she performed no work. The indictment claims that Blagojevich attempted to extort a congressman for campaign cash by withholding a $2-million state grant to a public school in the congressman’s district. A White House aide confirmed that the congressman was Democrat Rahm Emanuel, now the White House chief of staff.
All told, the ex-governor faces 16 felony counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy and lying to federal agents. The government is seeking forfeiture of $188,370 from Blagojevich and will try to take his Ravenswood Manor home in Chicago if needed.
“I’m saddened and hurt, but I am not surprised by the indictment,” Rod Blagojevich said in a statement. “I am innocent. I now will fight in the courts to clear my name. I would ask the good people of Illinois to wait for the trial and afford me the presumption of innocence that they would give to all their friends and neighbors.”
The formal charges also draw Blagojevich’s family further into the scandal. Patti Blagojevich was not charged but is referred to in the indictment, and the grand jury did indict the ex-governor’s brother.
Robert Blagojevich took over as head of his brother’s campaign fund in August, just two months before federal authorities won court authorization to wiretap the then-governor’s home phone and campaign office. He faces two counts of wire fraud.
“We were hoping it wouldn’t happen, but it did,” said Robert Blagojevich’s attorney, Michael Ettinger. “Now my client is looking forward to being vindicated at a trial. My client has said from the beginning that he was not doing anything outside the bounds of normal fundraising.”
Ettinger and the former governor were at Walt Disney World with their families, Ettinger said. He said Robert Blagojevich was not with them.
Orlando’s WESH-TV posted on its website a video of the former governor in sunglasses and shorts sitting beside a pool. As his wife tried to block the camera, Blagojevich declined to discuss the charges and said he would talk “at the appropriate time.”
The indictment marked the third time that fundraiser Christopher Kelly, a wealthy roofing contractor, has been charged by federal authorities. In January, he pleaded guilty to tax fraud for concealing his use of corporate funds to cover gambling debts. Weeks later, he was charged in connection with a kickback scheme at O’Hare International Airport. Neither of those cases involved Blagojevich.
Now Kelly faces a racketeering count and, with Cellini, three counts related to fraud and extortion charges.
Michael Monico, who represents Kelly, said his client is not guilty. “Chris Kelly did not engage in pay-to-play politics,” he said.
Cellini was indicted last fall on charges he extorted a Hollywood producer to make a Blagojevich campaign donation. His attorney, Dan K. Webb, said there was no justification for the charges against his client.
“It is known that the government obtained evidence that it intends to use against the former governor from wiretaps on his telephones,” Webb said. “I emphasize that Mr. Cellini has never spoken on the telephone with former Gov. Blagojevich. Additionally, Mr. Cellini has never had a substantive conversation with former Gov. Blagojevich on any topic.”
Monk faces one wire fraud count.
“Lon is a good man and it is my privilege to represent him,” said Monk’s attorney, Michael Shepard, a San Francisco lawyer who used to be an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago.
Harris faces one wire fraud count. Prosecutors said he is cooperating with federal authorities.
Gov. Pat Quinn held a quick news conference after stepping off a plane at O’Hare.
“The charges today are very, very serious,” Quinn said. “The defendants are entitled to their day in court -- we believe in that in America. The people of Illinois are entitled to honest government that works for them 24 hours a day every day. That’s what I’m committed to; that’s why I was sworn in, I think, nine weeks ago.”
Monique Garcia of the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.