Rod Blagojevich

State of Illinois

This is The Players, your update on who's who in Illinois politics and what they're up to.

This week you'll hear Amanda Vinicky's conversation with the man who has power - as in, subpoena power - to really discover what Illinois' political players are doing: Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza.

@GovRauner

If Illinois had political gravity, it could be said that all things orbit around Chicago. Gov. Bruce Rauner and his wife Diana vow to change all that by living in the mansion and running state government from Springfield.

  Some might find it surprising that a governor would need to make such a statement. The historic mansion, 150 years old and just a few blocks from the statehouse, is considered the official residence of the governor, but not all have made it their home.

This month's inauguration of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner marks a change in leadership for lawmakers and employees at state agencies. But it's also a big transition for people who will deal with the new governor in a very different capacity over the next four years: political cartoonists.

Scott Stantis draws political cartoons for the Chicago Tribune. He says Bruce Rauner has very identifiable features.

If you listened to Bruce Rauner on the campaign trail, you'd think that he would want to steer clear of Illinois' lawmakers. He reviled them. Especially those who had long careers in Springfield. Rauner, remember, ran on a platform advocating for term limits. But that was before he won election. Now, as he prepares to be Illinois' next governor, Rauner has spent a time reaching out to the politicians he'd once vilified. Amanda Vinicky checked in with some of them about how it went.

A jury has found a racetrack owner liable in a civil racketeering case that involved actions during Rod Blagojevich's time as Illinois governor.  

The jury in federal district court in Chicago on Monday awarded $26.3 million in damages to four Illinois riverboat casinos. The damages are tripled because the case fell under the civil racketeering statute, making the recovery more than $78 million.  

The trial involved a pay-to-play deal allegedly involving the now-imprisoned Blagojevich and John Johnston, a member of the Illinois racetrack industry.  

Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois' incoming governor has asked the outgoing one to put state hiring on hold for the remainder of his term.

Even as he was being impeached, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich kept making key appointments. A new Dept. of Natural Resources chief; Barack Obama's open U.S. Senate seat.

Gov. Pat Quinn is by no means under that sort of dark cloud.

And Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner says he has no reason to believe Quinn's doing anything inappropriate.

flickr/Sean MacEntee

Brace yourself, citizens.  September is the unofficial start of campaign season.  You are about to be spun by dueling poll numbers, attack ads and negative messages.   To help decipher it all, we're taking you behind the scenes this week to meet the practitioners of politics' dark arts.

We begin with Reporter Alex Keefe tracking down opposition researchers - the folks whose job it is to dig up dirt on politicians:

IDOT

The Illinois Department of Transportation is eliminating 58
positions that are at the center of a lawsuit alleging questionable hiring
practices.
 
 Acting Secretary Erica Borggren said Thursday the move is designed to boost
``accountability and restore public trust.''
 
In addition to eliminating ``staff assistant'' positions, IDOT is creating a
board to evaluate hiring, and is continuing a freeze on hiring for positions
that can be filled based on political connections.
 

Prosecutors responding to a new argument in Rod Blagojevich's appeal say the former governor's lawyers have misrepresented a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in another case.  

Blagojevich's lawyers say an April ruling by the high court found that soliciting contributions is corruption only when a politician makes explicit promises to take official action for a donation.  

Barry Maram
shefskylaw.com

A former state official has agreed to pay a record $100,000 fine to settle charges he violated a state ethics law. Barry Maram is accused of going to work for a state contractor a week after he left his job as director of Healthcare and Family Services.

Maram was HFS director from the earliest days of the Blagojevich administration through April 2010.

Maram went on to take a job with the Chicago law firm Shefsky & Forelich (now part of Taft)

WBEZ

  Gov. Pat Quinn's campaign is blasting his Republican opponent, Bruce Rauner for getting endorsed by Springfield insider William Cellini. But Quinn has his own checkered endorsement history.

Cellini, a lifelong Republican, went to prison for his role in a campaign contribution shakedown scheme tied to the administration of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The Quinn campaign is criticizing Rauner for not doing enough to denounce Cellini, but when reporters asked him about it in the Capitol, Quinn said: "Well I don't want to get into politics here."

Amanda Vinicky

Springfield powerbroker William Cellini is back on the political scene, following his release from prison late last year. He was found guilty of participating in an extortion scheme when Rod Blagojevich was governor.

Cellini attended a Sangamon County Republican Foundation event Tuesday night, which featured Bruce Rauner, the party's nominee for governor.

Cellini says he backed State Senator Kirk Dillard in the Republican primary race. But now he's behind Rauner.

"Well I've been a Republican all my life and he's the Republican candidate," Cellini said.

An appellate court in Chicago says transcripts of FBI wiretaps
not played at Rod Blagojevich's corruption trials will remain sealed.
 
The 7th U.S. Court of Appeals is still mulling its decision on the imprisoned
former Illinois governor's request to toss his convictions.
 
Appellate courts typically unseal documents submitted as part of an appeal. But
prosecutors later asked that the transcripts submitted to the appeals court not
entered into evidence at the trials remain under seal. Blagojevich's attorneys
wanted them opened.  
 

Audio Of Blagojevich Appeals Hearing Now Available

Dec 30, 2013
WUIS file photo

The sometimes contentious and surprising audio from the appeal hearing of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is now online.

Attorneys spent an hour arguing Blagojevich’s appeal on December 13th.  Leonard Goodman told judges that Blagojevich never intended to commit fraud, he thought he was engaging in political horse trading.

That led Judge Frank Easterbrook to repeatedly ask Blagojevich’s attorney about a case called  Cheek.

The wife of imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said she hopes her husband will win his freedom and that he could return home to rejoin her and their two school-aged daughters.  
Patti Blagojevich spoke Friday to reporters after attending a Chicago hearing to hear oral arguments in her husband's appeal of his corruption conviction. 

Attorneys for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich are scheduled to argue their appeal Friday morning.

Blagojevich’s attorney Leonard Goodman says Blagojevich engaged in political horse-trading, not bribery or extortion.

"All of his plans which he discussed openly with his advisors were for basically political appointments," Goodman stated.

It’s an argument Blagojevich has made since he was arrested in 2008 and it’s an argument that has repeatedly failed.

Amanda Vinicky

The curtains are closing on the Chicago play "I Wish to Apologize to the People of Illinois" -- a timely production, given that today, Dec. 9, marks five years since Rod Blagojevich's arrest. Two trials later, he was convicted on 18 counts of corruption. At Blagojevich's sentencing hearing, the former governor said he was sorry for his mistakes. But Blagojevich was not the one making apologies in this show. He's not even a character -- just someone who gets mentioned now and again.

wikipedia.org

 December Ninth is a significant day in Illinois' political history: for better, and for worse.

On Dec. 9, 2003 "the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act was signed into law," Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's David Morrison says.

That was Illinois lawmakers' response to the Hired Truck scandal that landed former Gov. George Ryan in prison. It created inspectors general with subpoena power, limited lobbyists' wining and dining of officials, and set conduct standards for state workers.

WBEZ

  It's been five years to the day since FBI agents arrived at then Governor Rod Blagojevich's house to arrest him on charges of corruption. Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison sentence, and for most Illinois politicians it's good riddance. Amanda Vinicky reports. 

Fresh off the General Assembly's passing a law to overhaul the state's pensions, I had the chance to catch up with House Speaker Michael Madigan:

VINICKY: "It's the five year anniversary of Blagojevich's arrest coming up ... any reaction, any ...

MADIGAN: "Yeah, we should … celebrate."

Rod Blagojevich's lawyers laid out a final set of arguments in writing before they step before appellate judges next week to argue that the imprisoned ex-governor deserves a new trial.
 
The 33-page filing with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals repeats arguments made before, including that trial Judge James Zagel displayed bias against
Blagojevich. The brief was posted late Monday.
 
The defense and prosecution will get 30 minutes each to deliver oral arguments before a three-judge panel Dec. 13.
 

Sandi and Jesse Jackson Jr. at the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver
WUIS/Illinois Issues

His predecessor in the U.S. House, Mel Reynolds, went to jail in the mid-’90s, being convicted of bank fraud and having sex with a 16-year-old girl. But Jesse Jackson Jr. was the first son of a candidate for president from Illinois to serve time in prison.

In late October, Jackson Jr. reported to a North Carolina prison camp, where he was expected to serve until December 2015. It was the end of what had been a spectacular rise and a hard fall. He was still trying to come up with the cash to cover his restitution.

wikipedia.org

Prosecutors have filed a response to Rod Blagojevich's corruption conviction appeal.  

The 169-page government filing submitted late Tuesday urges the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reject the imprisoned former governor's request for a new trial.  

Defense lawyers filed the appeal on the Illinois Democrat's behalf in July. It asks the Chicago-based appellate court to toss his convictions or at least reduce his 14-year prison sentence.  

Springfield's William Cellini Out of Prison

Nov 6, 2013
WBEZ

Politically connected Illinois businessman William Cellini  has been released from federal prison.  
A spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons says the Republican insider snagged in the corruption scandal involving former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was released from the federal lockup in Terre Haute, Ind., on Oct. 31. 

Fmr. Congressman Reports To Prison

Oct 29, 2013

Former Illinois U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has reported to a North Carolina federal prison to serve a 2 1/2-year prison term for misusing campaign funds.  
Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke declined to offer details, including when Jackson reported to prison.  
Court documents were never clear about when Jackson must report. In her sentencing order written earlier this year, A federal judge in Washington said only that he would have to surrender no earlier than Nov.1.  

WBEZ

Retiring Chicago Alderman Dick Mell says his falling out with son-in-law Rod Blagojevich and the former Illinois governor's imprisonment for corruption continue to weigh heavily on him.  
Mell spoke with reporters Friday about his nearly 40 years as a City Council member.  
The 75-year-old says the events surrounding his son-in-law and his wife's death were two painful episodes in his life. He says they ``put a damper'' on what he otherwise regards as a lucky and fulfilling life.  
Mell says it was difficult to say what he really feels about Blagojevich, but he hopes Blagojevich gets an appeal and that his 14-year sentence could be reduced.  
Mell aided Blagojevich's rise to governor, but says he now wished he had ``done things differently.''

Charlie Wheeler headshot
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Could it have been the scorching, record-setting heat besetting Illinois in July? Or maybe fevered anticipation of the chance to renew his downstate bona fides by cutting the ribbon to open the Illinois State Fair?

Perhaps it was, plain and simple, a paranormal phenomenon. Whatever the explanation, Gov. Pat Quinn sure looked like he was channeling his disgraced predecessor on a number of high-profile, mid-summer occasions.

Here’s a sampler of Quinn actions that smack of Rod Blagojevich:

Charlie Wheeler headshot
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Ever the showman, Rod Blagojevich sought the spotlight with a basketful of grandiose proposals, half-baked notions and — unfortunately for the former governor — ill-conceived criminal schemes. 

A partial accounting might include:

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich on  The Bonnie Hunt Show.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Soon after Rod Blagojevich was led in handcuffs from his Chicago home in December 2008, comedian Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show noted that Illinois has seen four of its last seven governors arrested (Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan and Blagojevich). 

Noting that half of all murders go unsolved, Stewart hit viewers with the inexorable math: “You are more likely to end up in jail if you become governor of Illinois than if you are a murderer.”

Patti Blagojevich
WUIS/Illinois Issues

News trucks with their bright lights clogged the street in front of the Blagojevich home as helicopters flew overhead.

Meanwhile, Patti’s brother, Richard Mell, noted that the street outside his bungalow was quiet. No one knew or cared where he lived. The Blagojevich girls — Amy, 12, and Annie, 5 — were coming for dinner to escape the media circus caused by their father’s arrest. “I made pot roast,” Richard says. “It was a nice warm environment.”

House Prosecutor David Ellis makes the case for the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich  photograph by Jay Barnard, courtesy of the Illinoisan House Democrats
WUIS/Illinois Issues

David Ellis is like a character in a good book. The more you find out about him, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Your first impression only skims the surface. You’re intrigued to know more, so you keep reading.

His day job is to serve as chief legal counsel for House Speaker Michael Madigan. In his “spare time,” or, rather, in the time that he hasn’t fallen asleep in front of the computer, Ellis writes mystery novels.

Pages