Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been indicted on charges he engaged in a “wide-ranging scheme to deprive the people of Illinois of honest government.” A federal grand jury handed down the 19-count indictment against Blagojevich, his brother, two former aides and two businessmen on Thursday. It accuses Blagojevich of corruption involving billions of dollars in state pension bonds.
FBI agents arrested the Chicago Democrat in December on allegations that also include trying to auction off President Barack Obama‘s vacant U.S. Senate seat.
Illinois lawmakers impeached him and threw him out of office in January.
Blagojevich has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
The former governor is not in Chicago. He’s with his family at Walt Disney World in Florida.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
CHICAGO (AP) — Federal prosecutors said they planned to take action on a “significant criminal matter” on Thursday as they worked to meet a court-imposed deadline for the political corruption indictment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
While prosecutors went about their work, the impeached and ousted governor was apparently vacationing at a Disney World resort in Florida.
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald has until Tuesday to produce an indictment replacing a criminal complaint filed against the former governor Dec. 9 after FBI agents arrested him at his Chicago home.
Blagojevich, 52, was charged in the complaint with scheming to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat and a host of other corruption. He denies wrongdoing.
Fitzgerald’s office did not specify which case the pending court filing pertained to, but Chicagoans have been anticipating Blagojevich’s indictment for days.
“We’re just hours away from a massive pay-to-play indictment against Gov. Blagojevich and possibly others,” former federal prosecutor Patrick M. Collins said Tuesday while unveiling recommendations from a state reform commission launched in response to the scandal.
Collins, who sent Gov. George Ryan to prison for racketeering, is chairman of the commission, which wants legislators to impose sweeping changes.
The announcement from Fitzgerald’s office said there would be no news conference or court appearance Thursday after the unspecified case filing.
Blagojevich and his family were apparently in Walt Disney World. A hotel operator at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. connected a Thursday phone call to a room booked under Blagojevich. It went straight to voicemail.
Publicist Glenn Selig said Blagojevich isn’t in Chicago and wouldn’t say when he’ll return.
Fitzgerald has said he filed the criminal complaint instead of an indictment in December because he wanted to arrest Blagojevich immediately to stop what he called a “political corruption crime spree” by the governor. It would have taken much more time to present the evidence to a grand jury and get it to vote for an indictment.
Filing a criminal complaint first and replacing it with an indictment is a common practice in the federal courts.
Besides the Senate seat allegations, an affidavit accompanying the complaint accuses Blagojevich of trying to squeeze companies for campaign money and pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers calling for his impeachment.
The Democrat’s arrest meant curtains for his political career: The Illinois House impeached him Jan. 9. The Senate convicted him and removed him from office Jan. 29.
Rather than brood, he took off on a surprise tour of national television talk shows to proclaim his innocence.
His initial chief defense counsel, Edward M. Genson, resigned, hinting Blagojevich had ignored his advice to stay quiet. Blagojevich recently signed on Genson’s law partner, Terence P. Gillespie.
Now the former governor is writing a book.
Blagojevich was first elected governor in 2002, promising “reform and renewal” with Ryan headed for federal prison.
But questions soon arose over his two top fundraisers, real estate developer Tony Rezko and roofing contractor Christopher G. Kelly. A wide-ranging federal investigation began, covering everything from Blagojevich’s hiring practices to real estate commissions Rezko paid to the governor’s wife.
The scandal haunted Blagojevich’s tenure as governor.
Kelly pleaded guilty to a tax charge. Rezko was convicted of using clout with the Blagojevich administration to gain control of two state boards and using that power in a scheme to squeeze companies seeking state business for $7 million in kickbacks.
The Rezko trial handed Blagojevich a nasty black eye.
On the stand, one campaign contributor said Blagojevich openly dangled big-money contracts if he would raise campaign funds. Another witness testified Blagojevich spoke of getting him a state job while his check for $25,000 to the governor’s campaign fund lay on the table.
To each new disclosure, Blagojevich aides insisted he was innocent and didn’t “do business that way.”