Prosecutor: Blagojevich Part of Illegal Shakedowns
June 8, 2010 - 5:05 PMRod Blagojevich was trying to use his power of government to get personal benefits for himself and his inner circle, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday at the former governor's corruption trial.
In her opening statement for the government, prosecutor Carrie E. Hamilton said Blagojevich was out to get payoffs and campaign money and was part of "a series of illegal shakedowns." She said there was also a plan about what he could do for his close advisers to cash in.
"When he was supposed to be asking, 'What about the people of Illinois,' he was asking, 'What about me?'" Hamilton said.
Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. He also denies that he plotted to turn his power as governor into a moneymaking scheme for himself and insiders.
Hamilton told jurors that Blagojevich sought to arrange deals in which entities that got state funding or approvals would then contribute to his campaign, that he sought to line the pockets of himself and his closest allies, and that he lied to the FBI when questioned about his fundraising activities.
"In each one of these shakedowns, the message was clear .... 'Pay up or no state action,'" she said.
They may not have said it in that language, Hamilton said, but "clever or blatant, it was still a shakedown."
Hamilton said the pattern was that once Blagojevich detected interest from someone, he would try to find way to get something out of them. He used those close to him as "middlemen," she said, and they would try to find ways to funnel cash to the inner circle in way it couldn't be detected.
"They sat together to devise a way to divide up the state of Illinois for their own personal profit."
Then, Obama was elected president. And Blagojevich had the power to appoint his successor to the Senate.
"For Gov. Blagojevich, his golden ticket arrived," Hamilton said.
She said Blagojevich started to work out a plan of what he could get for that - maybe a job as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Perhaps millions of dollars that he could control after he was no longer governor, she said.
"What you will see," she reiterated, "is that he wanted to know 'What about me?'"
The former governor's co-defendant - and brother - Robert Blagojevich, 54, a Nashville, Tenn., businessman, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged plan to sell the Senate seat and plotting to illegally squeeze a racetrack owner for a hefty contribution to the Blagojevich campaign fund.
Hamilton had opened the trial of Tony Rezko, one of Blagojevich's top fundraisers, by describing him as "the man behind the curtain, pulling the strings." Rezko was convicted of fraud and other offenses.
The jury was sworn in earlier Tuesday. Including alternates, the panel has 11 women and seven men.
One of Blagojevich's attorneys, Sam Adam Jr., was expected to later present the opening statement to jurors for the defense. To date, Adam is best known for his theatrical - and successful - defense of R&B star R. Kelly two years ago. He'll deliver the opening for the ousted governor.
The judge has told Adam that he can have only an hour and 45 minutes for his statement even though he asked for up to two and a half hours.
Both the main courtroom and an overflow room were packed to capacity as opening arguments began.
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