Blagojevich case reached across suburbs

 
Daily Herald Staff Report
Updated 6/27/2011 7:15 PM

The case against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich had tentacles throughout the suburbs and involved a number of suburban figures.

Three of the 17 counts on which Blagojevich was found guilty -- wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, and conspiracy to solicit a bribe -- involved suburban racetracks. Prosecutors said Blagojevich threatened not to sign racetrack legislation into law to help struggling Maywood and Balmoral Park until their owner, John Johnston of Hinsdale, coughed up a $100,000 campaign contribution.

 

Among other suburban connections, two of the wire fraud convictions involved Highland Park resident Tom Balanoff, a local labor leader who acted as the go-between in advocating Valerie Jarrett for Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. Prosecutors said Blagojevich made overtures to Balanoff about being named head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in exchange for appointing Jarrett to the seat.

"That's not going to happen," Balanoff told Blagojevich, according to the labor leader's testimony a year ago before Blagojevich's first trial.

Two of the counts on which Blagojevich was not convicted Monday involved the Illinois Toll Highway Authority, based in Downers Grove. Blagojevich was found not guilty of soliciting campaign contributions from highway contractor Gerry Krozel in exchange for approving a major toll road improvement plan. The jury did not reach a verdict on a related charge alleging Blagojevich sought funds from Krozel, an executive with Bridgeview's Prairie Material Sales.

The 11 women, one man jury that handed down Monday's historic verdict was made up of several suburban jurors, including the forewoman from Naperville, a retired church director of music and liturgy.