Wednesday, December 10, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Atlanta, Georgia
December 10, 2008

If you thought Kenyans, Nigerian and Tanzanian politicians were corrupt; think again. If you thought buying voters and bribing your way during elections Kenya style; think again.

In some states in America, they go the whole hog! There, a state governor can sell a Federal Senate seat for a neat sum of money if the opportunity presents itself. Better still, if a seat falls vacant in mid -term like Obama’s and several others have fallen vacant, the state governor has the prerogative to nominate a friend, a relative or even himself to that position. One governor currently considering nominating herself to the Federal Senate is Sarah Palin of Alaska.

However, the Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich had a brighter idea once he realized Obama had won the presidency. He decided to auction the seat to the highest bidder. However, before the deal went through, the Federal Agencies were knocking at his door in the wee hours of the morning.

On that fateful morning the Governor was roused from bed and arrested Tuesday after prosecutors said he was caught on wiretaps audaciously scheming to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat for cash or a plum job for himself in the new administration. Prosecutors did not accuse Obama himself of any wrongdoing or even knowing about the matter. The president-elect said he had no contact with the governor or his office, and so he was not aware of what was happening.

FBI agents arrested the governor before daybreak at his Chicago home and took him away while his family was still asleep, saying the wiretaps convinced them the Governor’s political corruption crime spree had to be stopped before it was too late. The Senate seat, as recently as days ago was on the verge of being auctioned off, said U.S Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. They feared the Governor’s conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.

Federal investigators bugged the governor's campaign offices and tapped his home phone, capturing conversations laced with profanity and tough-guy talk from the governor. Chicago FBI chief Robert Grant said even seasoned investigators were stunned by what they heard, particularly since the governor had known for at least three years he was under investigation for alleged hiring fraud and clearly realized agents might be listening in. The FBI said in court papers that the governor was overheard conspiring to sell the Senate seat for campaign cash or lucrative jobs for himself or his wife, Patti, a real estate agent. He spoke of using the Senate appointment to land a job with a nonprofit foundation or a union-affiliated group, and even held out hope of getting appointed as Obama's secretary of health and human services or an ambassador.

According to court papers, the governor tried to make it known through emissaries, including union officials and fundraisers, that the seat could be had for the right price. The charges do not identify by name any of the political figures under consideration for the Senate seat, referring to them only as "Candidate 1," "Candidate 2," and “Candidate 3.”

Blagojevich was charged with two counts: conspiracy to commit fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and solicitation to commit bribery, which is punishable by up 10 years. He was released on his own recognizance. Blagojevich, a former congressman, state lawmaker and prosecutor, was also charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Corporation., the owners of The Chicago Tribune, in an attempt to arm-twist the newspaper into firing editorial writers who had criticized him.

In addition, the governor was accused of engaging in pay-to-play politics — that is, doling out jobs, contracts and appointments in return for campaign contributions. Court papers portray Blagojevich as a greedy, vindictive guy who couldn't wait to find ways to cash in on the Senate appointment. The charges also paint a picture of breathtaking arrogance and perhaps cluelessness, with the governor contemplating a Cabinet position or even a run for the White House despite an abysmal 13% approval rating and a reputation as one of the most corrupt governors in America.
He becomes the latest in a long line of Illinois governors to become engulfed in scandal. He was elected in 2002 as a reformer promising to clean up after Gov. George Ryan, who is serving six years in prison for graft. The scandal leaves the Senate seat in limbo.

Illinois legislative leaders said they were preparing to quickly schedule a special election to fill Obama's seat rather than let Blagojevich pick someone saying that no appointment by the governor, under the circumstances, could produce a credible replacement. Some Illinois politicians immediately demanded that the governor step down or face impeachment.

Also arrested was Blagojevich's chief of staff, 46-year-old John Harris, who was accused of taking part in the schemes to enrich the governor.
Blagojevich also considered appointing himself to the Senate seat, telling his deputy governor that if the candidates were not going to offer him anything of value, he might as well take it!

He said becoming a senator might help him avoid impeachment and also remake his image for a possible presidential run in 2016. And he allegedly said that he would have access to greater resources if he were indicted while in the Senate.
Prosecutors said he also talked about getting his wife placed on corporate boards where she might get $150,000 a year in director's fees.

In court papers, the FBI said Blagojevich expressed frustration at being "stuck" as governor. "I want to make money," the governor, whose salary is $177,412, was quoted as saying in one conversation.

The head of the FBI's office in Chicago said he phoned Blagojevich at 6 a.m., telling him of a warrant for his arrest and informed him there were two FBI agents at his door. Blagojevich's first comment was, "Is this a joke?" Grant said. The governor was led away in handcuffs.

Nothing in the court papers suggested Obama had any part in the discussions about selling the Senate seat or knew of them. In fact, Blagojevich was overheard complaining at one point that Obama's people were not going to give him anything except appreciation.

Authorities said Blagojevich was hoping to raise $2.5 million by the end of the year and decided to speed up his crime spree before a state anti-corruption law took effect on January1 2009. The governor had earlier vetoed the anti-corruption law, but the Legislature overrode his veto.

The wiretapped conversations took place after Election Day and as recently as last week.

Political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who raised money for the campaigns of both Blagojevich and Obama, is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of fraud and other charges while Blagojevich's chief fundraiser goes on trial next year on obstruction charges.

The court papers also outline Blagojevich conversations related to the Tribune Corporation, which had been hoping for state aid in selling Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs. Blagojevich was quoted as telling his chief of staff, Harris, in a profanity-laced Nov. 4 conversation that Tribune executives should fire the editorial writers and get him some editorial support.

Harris was later overheard telling the governor on Nov. 11 that an unnamed Tribune owner, presumably CEO Sam Zell, got the message and was very sensitive to the issue.
Now you understand public corruption Chicago style!
Source: Mike Robinson, Associated Press in Chicago.