Ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s plan to auction off US President Barack Obama’s vacant US Senate seat marked the culmination of years of scheming for personal gain that included trying to extort a congressman and pressuring businesses to hire his wife, prosecutors alleged.
A sweeping 19-count federal indictment alleges that Blagojevich discussed with aides the possibility of getting a Cabinet post in the new president’s administration, substantial fundraising assistance or a high-paying job in exchange for the Senate seat.
Obama’s deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest, said on Thursday that the White House would not comment on the indictment, which does not allege any wrongdoing by Obama or his top aides.
Prosecutors also accused Blagojevich and members of his inner circle of plotting to line their pockets with millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains. They are accused of squeezing contractors, hospital owners and others seeking state business for kickbacks they planned to split after the governor left office.
“I’m saddened and hurt but I am not surprised by the indictment,” Blagojevich, who was in Walt Disney World with his family, said in a statement. “I am innocent. I now will fight in the courts to clear my name.”
Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was the congressman, attorneys familiar with the case said on Thursday. The attorneys spoke on condition of anonymity because the congressman wasn’t named in the indictment and the information was secret grand jury material.
The indictment said the congressman asked about a US$2 million grant included in the state budget for a school. But Blagojevich allegedly told a state official to tell the lawmaker his brother would have to raise campaign funds or the grant wouldn’t go through.
At the time, Emanuel represented the 5th District on Chicago’s North Side. Some of the funds were later released, even though no fundraiser had been held.
The indictment did not say which of Emanuel’s two brothers was involved. Emanuel’s brother Ari is a Hollywood agent and the inspiration for Ari Gold, the Type-A superagent on the HBO series Entourage. His brother Ezekiel is an oncologist.
The indictment also alleged that Blagojevich: Was involved in a corrupt scheme to get a massive kickback in exchange for the refinancing of billions of dollars in state pension funds; told an aide he didn’t want executives with two financial institutions getting further state business after he concluded they were not helping his wife get a high-paying job; withheld state aid sought by the Tribune Co unless it fired unfriendly editorial writers at the Chicago Tribune.
Also, convicted fixer Tony Rezko paid Patti Blagojevich a US$14,396 real estate commission “even though she had done no work” to earn it and later hired her at a salary of US$12,000 a month plus another US$40,000 fee, the indictment said.