CHICAGO — Jury selection will begin Wednesday in the retrial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on federal corruption and pay-to-play charges following a judge’s refusal last week to grant the defense’s request for a delay.
U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel denied the plea from Blagojevich attorneys to delay the trial by several weeks to give them more time to prepare. Blagojevich faces 20 counts stemming from alleged corruption in a case prosecutors streamlined following the former governor’s trial last summer in which the jury was deadlocked on 23 counts. Jurors found him guilty of only one count: lying to investigators.
Jurors said the complexity of the case hurt their deliberations. U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office dropped racketeering charges along with charges against Blagojevich’s brother, Robert, who briefly led his campaign committee in 2008 and was tried with his brother.
Blagojevich last week reiterated his innocence. “I said from the very beginning that I have been falsely accused of things I never did, nor did I ever intend to do. I’m innocent,” he said at a news conference. His attorneys won’t say whether the former governor will testify at the trial. In the first trial, the defense rested without calling any witnesses.
The counts against Blagojevich allege mail fraud, attempted extortion, extortion conspiracy, bribery, and bribery conspiracy. Prosecutors allege the governor and three associates hoped to personally profit from many pay-to-play schemes, including one involving the state’s $10 billion pension bond sale in 2003.
The most prominent charge accuses Blagojevich of seeking to personally profit from his power to appoint President Obama’s replacement as U.S. senator from Illinois after he was elected president.
Conversations caught on wiretap during which Blagojevich discussed benefitting from the Senate appointment in the fall of 2008 prompted federal authorities to arrest him in December 2008. The General Assembly removed him from office in early 2009 through impeachment.
The governor is also accused of attempting to profit along with his close advisers and aides from the state’s pension bond sale by steering the books to Bear Stearns & Co. Federal authorities allege the group sought to pocket $500,000 from an $809,000 consulting fee Bear Stearns paid its consultant Robert Kjellander of Springfield Consulting Group LLC.
Former Blagojevich chief of staff Alonzo Monk testified for the prosecution in the trial last year that the promise of personal financial benefits drove the selection of Bear Stearns and the promise of a higher payout prompted drove Blagojevich’s decision on the day of pricing to issue the full $10 billion of bonds authorized by the General Assembly.
The alleged pension bond pay-to-play scheme marks just one in a series of arrangements in which the former Democratic governor and his advisers sought to use their influence to steer state business and contracts to enrich themselves and Blagojevich’s campaign coffers.
In the first trial, Ali Ata, the first executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority after its creation in 2004, testified that he contributed $25,000 to Blagojevich during the election in 2002 and was told by Blagojevich adviser Antoin Rezko that he would be considered for a position in the future administration.
Rezko later mentioned the IFA position and asked for a $50,000 contribution. Ata, who came up with just $25,000 more, testified that Blagojevich subsequently thanked him for his support and said he hoped Ata would receive a position in which he could “make some money.”