The Blagojeviches' Week: F Bombs and Shakedowns

  • Share
  • Read Later
M. Spencer Green / AP

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich smiles as he arrives at the federal building in Chicago

During a break Thursday, July 8, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich turned around to talk to members of the public sitting in the courtroom on the 25th floor of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois. He began to apologize. "I'm sorry about the language," Blagojevich said to a retired couple sitting on the bench who had driven in from the Chicago suburbs. "It's not like I haven't heard it before," one of the visitors told Blagojevich. "Well, I guess it's pretty clear my wife is a White Sox fan," Blagojevich responded as his wife, Patti Mell Blagojevich, tried to stifle a laugh and shot her husband a look. Just a few minutes earlier, during testimony, she had been heard swearing on tape.

The outburst in question? "Hold up that f______ Cubs s___. F___ them. F___ them. Why should you do anything for those a_______? [Chicago Tribune owner] Sam Zell. What kind of b_______ is that?" she asked during a recorded phone discussion on Nov. 3, 2008, with her husband and then Illinois deputy governor Bob Greenlee. The subject: how to hold up the Chicago Tribune's pending sale of the Chicago Cubs and fire the newspaper's editorial board, which in its editorial pages had publicly discussed impeaching the governor.

There certainly hasn't been any shortage of F bombs during the trial of the former Illinois governor. On tape, Blagojevich uses a foul mouth to blame everyone, from the President of the United States ("my upward trajectory is f______ stalled, mortally wounded because of Obama") to the citizens of Illinois ("I f______ busted my ass and pissed people off and gave your grandmother a free f______ ride on a bus ... I gave your f______ baby a chance to have health care ... And what do I get for that? Only 13% of you think I'm doing a good job, so f______ all of you").

But while the cussing provided percussive special effects, just as prevalent was evidence regarding unethical behavior, extortion and bribery — the charges that brought Blagojevich to court. Among the allegations is that Blagojevich tried to profit from his gubernatorial prerogative to name a successor to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the then newly elected President Obama.

Gerry Krozel, a road contractor and former vice president of Prairie Material Sales, testified this week that Blagojevich invited him into his campaign-finance offices in September 2008. In the meeting, Krozel, who represented road builders and pavement associations, said Blagojevich made a "connection" between $6 billion in state money for a tollway program (as well as $1.5 billion for infrastructure) and campaign contributions Blagojevich could earn for himself. "Talk of the tollway and the request for money was very coincidental," Krozel testified under immunity.

Federal prosecutors also made a case that now jailed political fundraiser and real estate developer Antoin "Tony" Rezko — convicted on several counts of fraud and bribery — funneled money to the governor through his wife. Real estate agent Sean Conlon testified that after he sold two floors on Chicago's west side, the buyer, Brian Hynes, added Patti Blagojevich and her real estate company's name, River Realty, to the commission, raising the brokerage fee from $600,000 to $644,000 on one unit and from $700,000 to $721,000 on the other. It was enough to give Patti Blagojevich a $40,000 commission.

One incident that came up during the trial appeared to detail the way deals were made in Blagojevich's Illinois. According to federal prosecutors, a prominent fundraiser for U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. offered to raise $1 million for Blagojevich if the governor appointed Jackson to the Senate seat. The prosecutors said Jackson was present when the offer allegedly took place on Oct. 28, 2008, at the Chicago restaurant 312. It was proffered by Raghuveer "Raghu" Nayak to Rajinder Bedi, a prominent businessman who served as the managing director of the State of Illinois Office of Trade and Investment during Blagojevich's term as governor. With the jury ordered out of the courtroom, U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoeher explained to the judge that Nayak told Jackson in Bedi's presence, "I will raise a million if he appoints you to the Senate seat." At sidebar, defense lawyers had protested, since some of the testimony would be based on hearsay.

Though barred from hearing about the $1 million offer, the jurors heard a précis of it when Bedi testified under immunity that Blagojevich's brother Robert knew of a heavyweight donor who wanted Jackson appointed to the seat. Robert Blagojevich ran his brother's Friends of Blagojevich (FOB) campaign fundraising efforts. Jackson and the governor have had a textured relationship, with the Blagojevich camp believing the Congressman reneged on early promises of support.

With Bedi on the stand, the prosecutors played several taped conversations between Blagojevich and Robert, in which the governor asks his brother if he has "any thoughts" about the Senate seat. Robert tells him, "I have no insights to give you that you don't already have. None. But I mean, the only, the only caution and, you know, brotherly advice I'd give you is, make sure it's a tit for tat, man. You get something. I wouldn't give anything away."

The governor's work ethic also came under scrutiny. "It was an in-or-out mentality," former deputy governor Greenlee testified about Blagojevich's management style. "If you were out [of the office], he wouldn't want to communicate with you." Blagojevich, 53, spent only two to eight hours a week in the office, Greenlee testified, describing how the governor hid in the bathroom to avoid difficult monetary discussions with budget director John Filan. At the mention of his tactics, Blagojevich leaned back in his chair and smirked. His brother Robert, 54, who is facing five charges related to the Senate seat, covered his eyes and looked down.

The prosecution sprung a surprise on the defense on Thursday by announcing that it will rest its case on Tuesday — early. Defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky asked Judge James Zagel for an extra week of preparation, to start on Monday, July 19, in light of the prosecution's speedy, five-week delivery. The judge is unlikely to give that much time.

In the meantime, the prosecution will turn out one more major witness: John Wyma, a former close friend of the governor and his chief of staff when Blagojevich was in Congress. Among the subjects he is likely to detail is Blagojevich's alleged attempt to solicit campaign contributions from the CEO of Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital in exchange for the governor's raising the Medicaid reimbursement rates of its doctors. Already, Greenlee has testified that when Blagojevich didn't get his campaign contributions, he held up the rate increases. During a recorded phone call played in court, Blagojevich asked Greenlee if he as governor had total discretion over the rates and could pull back for "budgetary concerns." Greenlee said, "I didn't know why I was being asked not to move forward, but I knew it wasn't budgetary concerns."

Wyma may be adding even more detail to that prosecutorial line of argument. Even if there aren't any F bombs to be heard on tape, don't be surprised if Blagojevich and his allies mumble them under their breath.