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    Tuesday, December 9, 2008

    Reuters - Illinois governor arrested on corruption charges

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    Illinois governor arrested on corruption charges

    Tuesday, Dec 09, 2008 6:50PM UTC

    By Michael Conlon and Andrew Stern

    CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on Tuesday on corruption charges, including that he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by fellow Democrat and President-elect Barack Obama.

    Prosecutors also said the governor tried to muscle the Chicago Tribune into firing editorial writers who were critical of him.

    While Obama has long distanced himself from the governor of his home state -- who has been under investigation on other issues for years -- Blagojevich's arrest was likely to be an embarrassment to the president-elect.

    The case shines a light once again on old-style corruption in the Chicago political caldron from which Obama emerged.

    "The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor, said in a statement.

    It was enough to make Abraham Lincoln "roll over in his grave," Fitzgerald later told reporters, adding the arrest of Blagojevich was made because he wanted to stop a "crime spree."

    In Illinois, the governor selects a successor when there is a mid-term vacancy in the U.S. Senate. Obama, who takes office on January 20, resigned from the Senate soon after winning the November 4 presidential election.

    How the case might affect his Senate replacement was unclear. There were immediate calls from both Republicans and Democrats in Illinois that Blagojevich resign, allowing the lieutenant governor, also a Democrat, to step in. Under state law, Blagojevich could still make the appointment even if later indicted.

    But federal prosecutors said they moved against the governor before he could make the Senate choice.

    Neither Blagojevich or his office issued a statement after the charges were revealed. The governor and a senior aide were taken into custody at their Chicago homes. Blagojevich was due in court later on Tuesday.

    Federal prosecutors said Obama was not implicated.

    "I should make clear the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever," Fitzgerald said.

    Obama aides would not immediately comment on the charges against the governor, but said the Obama transition office would be issuing a statement.

    "FOR SALE" SIGN

    The 51-year-old Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were each charged in a federal complaint with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and a second count of solicitation of bribery.

    In his statement, Fitzgerald said the charges "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 accused of threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of the Chicago Cubs' baseball home, Wrigley Field, in order "to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical" of him, Fitzgerald said.

    Blagojevich allegedly was caught on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month.

    He was seeking a "substantial" salary for himself at a nonprofit foundation or union affiliated organization, a spot on a corporate board for his wife, promises of campaign cash, as well as a cabinet post or ambassadorship in exchange for his Senate choice, an FBI affidavit said.

    Even though it was unclear what would happen now to the selection of a successor to Obama in the Senate, the spot would be certain to go to a Democrat. Democrats, with independent allies, will hold at least 58 seats in the 100-seat Senate when the new Congress convenes in early January. A Minnesota Senate seat is still undecided.

    Blagojevich, in his second term, is the latest in a string of Illinois governors to run afoul of the law. His immediate predecessor, George Ryan, is in jail following a federal corruption conviction.

    HEFTY PRISON TERM POSSIBLE

    If Blagojevich is convicted, each mail and wire fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison while each bribery charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Each count carries a maximum fine of $250,000.

    Blagojevich was elected to the Illinois state House in 1992 and later won a seat in the U.S. Congress that had been held by another politician who ran afoul of the law, Dan Rostenkowski.

    He became Illinois' first Democratic governor in nearly 30 years when he replaced Ryan in 2003, on a platform of reform. But his popularity has descended to an all-time low after wrangles with fellow Democrats in the state legislature, some of whom had threatened him with impeachment.

    (Reporting by Michael Conlon and James Vicini, Kyle Peterson and Karen Pierog in Chicago, Editing by Jackie Frank and Frances Kerry)

    CNN - Illinois governor taken into custody

    Sent from bombastic4000@yahoo.com's mobile device from http://www.cnn.com.

    Illinois governor taken into custody


    Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is in federal custody on corruption charges, a law enforcement official said Tuesday.

    Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, are charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of Illinois.

    Both men are expected in U.S. District Court in Chicago later Tuesday.

    A news conference is expected at noon ET.

    Federal prosecutors say Blagojevich, Harris and others conspired to gain financial benefits in appointing President-elect Barack Obama's Senate replacement, according to the statement.

    "The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said 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."

    According to the statement, Blagojevich is alleged to have discussed obtaining:

    a substantial salary for himself at either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions;

    a spot for his wife on paid corporate boards, where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year;

    promises of campaign funds -- including cash up front;

    a Cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.

    The Obama transition team is aware that Blagojevich is in federal custody, but has no comment, according to a senior Democratic source.

    The statement also alleges that Blagojevich and others tried to illegally obtain campaign contributions.

    Blagojevich, Harris and others are also alleged to have withheld state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field. The statement says this was done to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members who were critical of Blagojevich.

    Blagojevich, who turns 52 on Wednesday, is in his second four-year term as Illinois governor. His term ends in January 2011.

    Before being elected governor, he served as a U.S. congressman for Illinois' 5th district from 1997 until 2003, according to his online biography. He and his wife, Patti, have two daughters.

    Blagojevich announced last month that he was forming a panel to review candidates to fill Obama's Senate seat.

    Several Illinois Democrats -- including Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, a former congressional candidate who now serves in Blagojevich's administration -- have been mentioned as possible Senate replacements for Obama.

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