New indictment filed against Blagojevich
A grand jury handed down a new 113-page indictment against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich Thursday.
The second superseding indictment filed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office made many of the same corruption charges, but was amended to downplay "human services fraud," as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on the constitutionality of that law later this year. That could happen even as the trial, now set to start June 3, was ongoing.
"There is no new substance to these charges," said Randall Samborn, spokesman for the U.S. attorney.
The former two-term governor's attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, called the re-indictment "nothing more than warmed-up old soup." He said Blagojevich is innocent and will be vindicated at trial. Blagojevich, 53, is scheduled to appear in court for arraignment on Feb. 10.
The indictment includes new counts of racketeering, attempted extortion, extortion conspiracy, bribery and bribery conspiracy, but "are based on the same underlying criminal conduct," according to an accompanying filing. "Because the defendants' illegal conduct violated multiple criminal statutes, additional statutes are charged."
The 24-count indictment also named Blagojevich's campaign manager Alonzo Monk, chief of staff John Harris and brother Robert, chairman of the Friends of Blagojevich campaign organization, as defendants.
They, along with fundraisers Antoin Rezko, who has already been convicted on corruption charges, and Chris Kelly, who committed suicide shortly after pleading guilty in a corruption case last year, were accused of running what was termed the "Blagojevich Enterprise." It is alleged to have used political power to enrich its members through government acts and bribery. The indictment charged that Blagojevich, Monk, Kelly and Rezko planned to amass the money and then divide it up after he left office.
Foremost among the charges were six acts of racketeering, including the familiar accusation that Blagojevich had attempted to auction an appointment to Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat after his election as president.
In addition, the indictment alleges Blagojevich had squeezed the chief executive officer of Children's Memorial Hospital and U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, referred to as "Congressman A" and now White House chief of staff, for campaign contributions by threatening to withhold state grants, had attempted to swap favorable government deals to the Tribune Company in exchange for firing Blagojevich critics on the paper's editorial board and had attempted to extort contributions from a racetrack executive and highway contractor for government favors.
It also accused Blagojevich of attempting to manipulate state pension bonds for personal gain and attempting to seek jobs for his wife and even himself.
Included in the new indictment was the charge that, as officers of the state, Blagojevich, Monk and Harris "owed a duty of honest services and a duty of loyalty to the people of the state of Illinois."
That, in fact, was the main reason for the reconfigured indictment. "Honest services" fraud has figured in the convictions of former Illinois governors from George Ryan back to Otto Kerner in the '70s, when future Gov. Jim Thompson first asserted such "intangible rights" as the U.S. attorney. It basically insists that government officials are obliged to do right even when not technically breaking the law.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, however, dissented on the court's refusal to hear a Chicago corruption case last year by attacking the notion of "intangible right of honest services."
"It is simply not fair to prosecute someone for a crime that has not been defined until the judicial decision that sends him to jail," Scalia wrote. "Indeed, it seems to me quite irresponsible to let the current chaos prevail."
That, in turn, led the Supreme Court to hear a case on "honest services" in its current term, with a judgment perhaps curtailing the practice due later this year.
The accompanying filing argued that the new indictment "is fashioned in such a way that, should the Supreme Court rule (that law) unconstitutional, the charges, or section of charges, ... can easily be dismissed. Such dismissal would do little to affect the trial."
Daily Herald wire services contributed to this report.