Former Ill. Gov. Blagojevich Indicted

A federal grand jury indicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on charges that he ran a "scheme to to deprive the people of Illinois of honest government." Lawmakers in the state impeached and ousted Blagojevich in January.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

A federal grand jury in Chicago handed up an indictment late today of former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich. The indictment adds new details to the political corruption charges Blagojevich has been facing since his arrest in December. And there are new charges, too, against Blagojevich and others within his inner circle.

NPR's David Schaper joins us now from Chicago. David, could you explain the charges in this indictment and how they differ from the charges filed in a criminal complaint against the former governor at the time of his arrest back in December?

DAVID SCHAPER: Sure. Blagojevich, his brother Rob, and two former top aides and two Illinois businessmen who were prominent political fundraisers are charged today on a 19-count indictment. Blagojevich himself faces 16 charges, felonies, including wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy, extortion, attempted extortion and lying to federal agents.

Essentially, this is a much broader and widespread corruption indictment that reaches all the way back to 2002, even before Rod Blagojevich was elected the governor of Illinois. Essentially, the government alleges in this indictment that he schemed with some of these members of his inner circle since the time before he was even elected to the office of governor to use the office to enrich themselves - essentially these allegations.

And some accuse Blagojevich of using state appointment, state business contracts, legislation, pension fund investments, other official duties of the office, all as leverage to gain campaign contributions, cash kickbacks, employment for the governor and others. And in terms of the cash, they had agreed to split up the proceeds after Blagojevich would leave office.

So it goes far beyond the appointment, his effort to - alleged effort to try to sell the appointment of a U.S. senator the seat vacated by President Barack Obama, essentially to the highest bidder, the charge that got the most attention back in December.

NORRIS: Now, we've been talking about the Blagojevich inner circle, who else is indicted with the governor and - the former governor - and what are they accused of doing?

SCHAPER: Well, one of the most notable among them is the former governor's brother, Rob Blagojevich, who lives in Tennessee. He has chaired, Rod, his brother's campaign fund and is alleged to be involved in trying to illegally obtain campaign contributions.

Another of the defendants is John Harris, the ex-governor's former chief of staff, who served from 2005 until the time that both he and Blagojevich were arrested back on December 9th. The indictment now confirms that Harris has been cooperating with investigators since the time of his arrest and that is very significant because of his knowledge of the inner workings of the office.

Another former chief of staff to the governor, Lon Monk, who was one of Blagojevich's longest and closest friends is charged in this indictment. He chaired the campaign fund for a while and most recently was working for a lobbyist.

There were two others, Christopher Kelly, a roofing contractor who was a key fundraiser for Blagojevich. And Bill Cellini, who until recently has been known almost primarily as a Republican power broker from Springfield, but is alleged to have an enormous influence in this Democratic governor's administration, as well.

NORRIS: After his first arrest and throughout and even after his impeachment and removal from office, Blagojevich was on television and radio doing a national media tour. He hasn't exactly gone underground. I understand he's out and about today. What's been his reaction? Have we heard from him?

SCHAPER: Well, we haven't heard it from him yet today. He and his family are reportedly in Florida visiting Disneyworld. Rod and Patti Blagojevich have two young girls and are there, according to media reports, trying to get away from it all. No court appearances yet, but throughout this whole time, Blagojevich has maintained his innocence, saying he has done nothing wrong and has committed no crime.

NORRIS: Thank you, David.

SCHAPER: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That's NPR's David Schaper in Chicago.

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