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Blagojevich indictment outlines more pay-to-play schemes

Illinois' ex-governor asserts his innocence, saying he'll 'fight in the courts' to clear his name.

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The children’s hospital shakedown “is the most egregious in many people’s minds,” says Simpson.

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While the charges involving the Chicago Tribune and Obama's Senate seat were brought to light in early December, when Blagojevich was arrested outside his Chicago home, Thursday’s indictments include new charges. Among them is an alleged scheme to raid the state pension funds by redirecting state business relating to the refinancing of billions of dollars in state bonds to a company run by a lobbyist who would then collect and split the money with Blagojevich and his associates.

Blagojevich is the marquee name among the six named in the indictment. Besides his brother, the others are former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris, former Blagojevich campaign chairman Alonzo Monk, and businessmen and fundraisers Christopher Kelly and William Cellini Sr. Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office on Jan. 29.

Date of arraignments is not known.

Chicago's image problem

The Blagojevich indictment comes at a critical time for Illinois. The International Olympic Committee arrived in Chicago Thursday to judge potential venue sites contained in the city’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics. The indictment has no direct bearing on the IOC's decision, of course, but it draws attention to the state’s legacy of corruption, something the committee might take into consideration.

Ethics reform has become a primary focus of new Gov. Pat Quinn, whose nascent ethics commission is expected to roll out reform proposals this month.

The public appears ready for change. Fifty-eight percent of Illinois residents believe that Blagojevich’s alleged behavior is common among state officials, and 78 percent say a ban on campaign contributions by corporations is essential to make a difference, according to a recent survey conducted by the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based public policy group. Seventy-eight percent of residents also say the state is on the wrong track.

Illinois is the most corrupt state in the nation, asserts Simpson. In a recent study of government corruption in Illinois, he reported that 1,000 officials and businessmen have been convicted of public corruption in Illinois since 1970.

The Blagojevich indictment “will give an impetus to force the legislature to pass some major reforms,” Simpson says. “It shows immense change already."

Blagojevich’s chief worry should be the record of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who has won almost all of his cases, says Simpson.

Though the US Justice Department is under scrutiny this week for dropping its ethics case against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska, due to prosecutorial misconduct, that should not have any bearing on the Blagojevich case, says Evan McKenzie, former San Diego County prosecutor and now a professor at the John Marshall Law School here.

"Mr. Fitzgerald is very particular, he’s scrupulous, [and] he’s not going to jeopardize the prosecution of this case,” says Mr. McKenzie. “That’s just not going to happen.”

Fitzgerald has already prosecuted an Illinois governor. Blagojevich won the seat from former Governor Ryan, who was sent to jail by Fitzgerald on corruption charges.