Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The Democratic governor of Illinois in the United States, Rod Blagojevich, 51, along with his chief of staff John Harris, 46, were arrested Tuesday morning by the FBI on federal corruption charges.
The Chicago Tribune reports that federal agents raided Blagojevich’s home this morning and took him into federal custody. The arrest comes after a three-year investigation into Blagojevich’s “pay-to-play politics.”
Specifically, the Department of Justice alleged that Blagojevich attempted to sell the Senate seat previously held by President-elect Barack Obama. Blagojevich, as governor, has the sole authority to appoint someone to complete Obama’s term. Authorities believe the process to select a new senator was tainted after authorities secretly recorded several of Blagojevich’s conversations. They believe that he was attempting to sell the seat in exchange for financial benefit for himself and his wife.
Documents from the FBI and from U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald identify the people whom Blagojevich was considering as Senate Candidates 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. According to Fitzgerald’s press release, Blagojevich told an advisor that he wanted to “get some (money) up front, maybe.”
In Illinois, a new state ethics law will take effect on January 1, 2009, so Blagojevich was trying to embezzle as much money as he could before that date, said Fitzgerald.
Authorities also believe that Blagojevich was trying to withhold state financial assistance from the owner of the Tribune, the Tribune Company, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection. They allege he was trying to get members of the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune fired by threatening to complicate the sale of Wrigley Field by Tribune Company.
On December 8, Blagojevich responded to the reports that federal authorities had wiretapped his phone conversations, saying that “I should say if anybody wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead, feel free to do it. I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful and the things I’m interested in are always lawful.”
If convicted, Blagojevich could face up to 30 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
This is not the first time in Illinois history that a governor has been arrested for corruption charges. In 2006, George Ryan was indicted and is now serving a 6½-year prison term.