Illinois governor arrested for trying to sell Obama senate seat
AFP - 25 minutes ago
CHICAGO, Dec 9, 2008 (AFP) - - The governor of Illinois was arrested on charges of conspiring to sell an appointment to president-elect Barack Obama's recently vacated US Senate seat in what prosecutors called "a political corruption crime spree."
Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich was also accused Tuesday of demanding kickbacks for government contracts, lucrative jobs and appointments and trying to get certain editors fired from the Chicago Tribune newspaper because of their critical coverage of his administration.
"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," said US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
"They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target, and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism."
"Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low," Fitzgerald said at a press conference, adding that the state's top leader "has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree."
Obama said he was not aware of allegations that Blagojevich -- who as governor is charged with appointing a US senator when a seat becomes vacant -- was shopping it around to find the highest bidder.
"I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening," Obama told reporters.
"Like the rest of the people of Illinois, I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the US attorney's office today," the president-elect said, adding that it would not be "appropriate" for him to comment further on the ongoing investigation.
Fitzgerald emphasized that the criminal complaint made "no allegations" that Obama was aware of or involved in any scheming by the governor and that some of the schemes "did not go very far at all."
The complaint included descriptions of recorded conversations in which Blagojevich complained bitterly that while Obama's team had a preferred candidate in mind, "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. (Expletive) them!"
The corruption charges prompted speculation about who else might be implicated in the case, as the governor allegedly sought out the highest bid for the senate seat.
Authorities allege he considered taking the seat himself to avoid impeachment by the Illinois legislature and to remake his image for a potential run for president in 2016.
He was also allegedly taped talking about trading the seat for a cabinet post, ambassadorship, a "cushy" union job or a high-paying spot on a corporate board for his wife.
In a conversation recorded the day after Obama's historic November 4 win, Blagojevich told an unnamed advisor: "I've got this thing and it's (expletive) golden, and, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing. I'm not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there," the 76-page criminal complaint states.
Blagojevich was released on a 4,500 dollar bond Tuesday after making a brief appearance before a federal judge in Chicago.
His lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, said the governor was "very surprised and certainly feels that he did not do anything wrong."
His office declined to comment on the charges or calls for his resignation, saying only that the allegations "do nothing to impact the services, duties or function of the state."
He is reportedly planning to go back to work on Wednesday and has rejected calls to resign or step aside.
Top senate Democrats have called for a special election to fill Obama's seat. State legislators called for Blagojevich to either step aside or resign and could move forward quickly on impeachment proceedings if he does not.
Blagojevich was elected in 2002 after vowing to reform the culture of corruption surrounding his predecessor, Republican George Ryan, who is currently serving more than six years in prison for corruption.
Blagojevich was soon involved in corruption scandals of his own as federal prosecutors investigated a host of allegations of pay-to-play politics including insider-dealing, influence-peddling and kickbacks.
Former Blagojevich advisor and fundraiser Tony Rezko, who also had close ties to Obama, was convicted earlier this year on corruption and bribery charges.
Blagojevich, 51, and his chief of staff, John Harris, 46, were each charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. If convicted they face a maximum up to 30 years in jail.
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