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Blagojevich Under Fire

CHICAGO - One day after allegations surfaced in federal court filings that he sought to reward a campaign contributor with a top state post, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich avoided any questions on the subject at his single public event yesterday.

Blagojevich attended and spoke at the annual governor's prayer breakfast in Springfield, but did not send out a notification to the press until after the event and he left quickly after his short address to meet with legislative leaders.

He also did not address in his speech the accusations made by Ali Ata, the former executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority, in a plea agreement announced Tuesday with federal prosecutors as part of the government's ongoing investigation of state corruption.

The governor has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but it is widely accepted, based on information included in dozens of court filings, that he is "Public Official A" in the Operation Board Games probe.

Late Tuesday, his office released a statement: "As we've said many times before, we don't endorse or allow the decisions of state government to be based on campaign contributions."

In his speech Wednesday, Blagojevich spoke of his faith, the economic struggles of families, and his push for a $25 billion capital budget to spur the state's economy. He also spoke of his mission as governor, including his embrace of the "Golden rule ... you should do unto others as you would have others do unto you." He added that he seeks every day to "find ways to get things done" what he would want for his family, including improved health care, preschool funding, and a higher minimum wage.

One of the early initiatives of the Blagojevich administration after he took office in 2003 was to consolidate most of the statewide conduit bonding agencies into the newly createdIllinois Finance Authority. Ata's appointment as executive director was approved by the new board as the agency opened its doors in January 2004.

He resigned in 2005 to return to the private sector. Ata's was a name unfamiliar to most market participants but it was speculated that he had close business and personal ties to the governor's top fundraiser and adviser Antoin Rezko.

Rezko currently is on trial on charges that he used his influence with the administration to enrich himself and the governor's campaign coffers by shaking down firms that wanted to do investment business with the state.

Federal authorities charged Ata last year with aiding and abetting an alleged corrupt business scheme of Rezko's by using his position at the IFA to help inflate the worth of several businesses Rezko sought to sell. Rezko is facing a separate trial on those charges.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Ata would cooperate with authorities and he agreed to plead guilty to charges that he filed a false tax return and lied to a federal investigator when he said in a December 2005 interview that he was not aware of any role played by Rezko in his hiring for the $127,000 a year post.

Ata held a fundraiser for Blagojevich just before his election that raised $25,000, including his own personal contribution of $5,000. He later that year made a $25,000 contribution, giving it to Rezko who brought it into a conference room and gave it to Public Official A who asked Rezko if he had talked to Ata about positions in the administration.

As he campaigned for the governor's office in 2002, Blagojevich, then a congressman, ran of the platform of "no more business as usual" with the incumbent George Ryan then facing a corruption trial.

In July of 2003, Ata was asked by Rezko to make another $25,000 contribution, which he did. Soon after, Ata allegedly had a conversation with the governor at a fundraiser in which the governor said he was aware of the contribution and understood that Ata would be joining the administration and "that it had better be a job where the defendant could make some money," the plea agreement reads. Ata also paid bribes to Rezko totaling $125,000 during 2003 and 2004 to obtain his position and keep it.

The plea agreement also referenced an unnamed investment banker "whom Rezko described as knowledgeable about the IFA and a 'team player'" that could assist in the fraudulent business scheme involving the sale of the pizza businesses.

Ata faces up to eight years in prison and $500,000 in fines although his sentencing is postponed until his cooperation with authorities is completed.

 

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