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Feds arrest Illinois governor for corruption

Blagojevich ‘corruptly used his office,’ US says after a wiretap probe.

By Staff writer / December 9, 2008

Arrested: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) faces federal fraud and bribery charges.

M. Spencer Green/AP/File

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Chicago

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on federal corruption charges, including that he conspired “to sell or trade” an appointment to the US Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Obama.

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The arrest makes Governor Blagojevich, a Democrat, the second Illinois chief executive in a row to face charges of pay-to-play politics, a dispiriting event for residents weary of the state’s reputation for seamy politics. His predecessor, Republican George Ryan, is serving a 6-1/2-year sentence for a corruption conviction two years ago.

“The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering,” US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said Tuesday in a statement. “They allege that Blagojevich put a ‘for sale’ sign on the naming of a United States senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism.”

Blagojevich was arrested along with his chief of staff, John Harris. Each was charged with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and solicitation of bribery. At a press conference, Mr. Fitzgerald characterized the governor’s actions as “a political corruption crime spree.”

Blagojevich appeared before US Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan Tuesday afternoon and was released on his own recognizance and a $4,500 bond, without making a statement.

Included in the FBI affidavit are charges that Blagojevich was caught on wiretaps conspiring to sell or trade Mr. Obama’s vacated US Senate seat. On the wiretaps, the affidavit asserts, the governor speculated about trading the Senate appointment for perks such as a large salary for himself, once he leaves office, at an organization affiliated with labor unions; an appointment for his wife on corporate boards, where she might be paid as much as $150,000 a year; promises of campaign funds; and a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.

In one conversation about the Senate seat, Blagojevich allegedly told Mr. Harris and an adviser he needed to consider his family and that he is “financially” hurting. Harris responded that he and the adviser were weighing what would help the Blagojevich family’s “financial security.”

The affidavit also details discussions from last week in which Blagojevich is alleged to have said he might “get some [money] up front, maybe” from an individual the government identifies only as “Senate Candidate 5.”

Earlier, he was recorded claiming to have been approached by an emissary from that candidate, who said he would raise $500,000 for Blagojevich in exchange for the seat.

The charges, too, include allegations that Blagojevich and Harris schemed with others since the governor took office in 2003 to obtain benefits for himself, his family, and his campaign committee, repeating, in some cases the testimony of witnesses at the federal trial earlier this year of Antoin “Tony” Rezko. Mr. Rezko, a donor to Blagojevich’s campaign, was convicted for using his connections to state board appointees to demand kickbacks from businesses that wanted to do business with the state.