Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested today by FBI agents on federal corruption charges.
Updated at 9:17 a.m.: Blagojevich also was alleged to be using a favors list, made up largely of individuals and firms that have state contracts or received taxpayer benefits, from which to conduct a $2.5 million fundraising drive before year’s end.
Even Blagojevich’s recently announced $1.8 billion plan for new interchanges and “green lanes” on the Illinois Tollway was subject to corruption, prosecutors alleged.
The complaint repeatedly references conversations secretly recorded by federal authorities.
The criminal complaint alleges Blagojevich expected an unnamed highway concrete contractor to raise a half-million dollars for his campaign fund in exchange for state money for the tollway project. “If they don’t perform, (expletive) ‘em,” Blagojevich said, according to the complaint.
Updated at 9:08 a.m.: Blagojevich and Harris were arrested simultaneously at their homes at about 6:15 a.m., according to the FBI. They were transported to FBI headquarters in Chicago, where they remained at 9 a.m.
Updated at 9 a.m.: Blagojevich is slated to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan today at a time that has not yet been scheduled, according to Randall Samborn of the U.S. attorney’s office.
Updated at 8:57 a.m.: On the issue of the U.S. Senate selection, federal prosecutors alleged Blagojevich sought appointment as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the new Obama administration, or a lucrative job with a union in exchange for appointing a union-preferred candidate.
Blagojevich and Harris conspired to demand the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members responsible for editorials critical of Blagojevich in exchange for state help with the sale of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs baseball stadium owned by Tribune Co.
Blagojevich and Harris, along with others, obtained and sought to gain financial benefits for the governor, members of his family and his campaign fund in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state jobs and state contracts.
“The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in a statement. “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.”
Blagojevich and Harris were accused of a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy that included Blagojevich conspiring to sell or trade the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama in exchange for financial benefits for the governor and his wife. The governor was also accused of obtaining campaign contributions in exchange for other official actions.
Blagojevich was taken into federal custody at his North Side home this morning.
A Blagojevich spokesman said he was unaware of the development. “Haven’t heard anything — you are first to call,” Lucio Guerrero said in an e-mail.
The stunning, early morning visit by authorities to the governor’s North Side home came amid revelations that federal investigators had recorded the governor with the cooperation of a longtime confidant and had begun to focus on the possibility that the process of choosing a Senate successor to President-elect Barack Obama could be tainted by pay-to-play politics.
Blagojevich was taken into custody hours after the Tribune reported that the investigation into allegations of pay-to-play politics within his administration had been expanded to include his pending choice of a Senate replacement for Obama. The Democratic governor has said he expects to make a decision on the state’s next senator in weeks.
Sources told the Tribune that investigators intensified their investigation into Blagojevich amid concerns that the process of choosing a new senator could be tainted. The actions by federal authorities came a day before Blagojevich’s 52nd birthday.
The Tribune previously disclosed that federal investigators had recordings of Blagojevich. Those recordings were aided by the cooperation of longtime Blagojevich confidant and former congressional chief of staff John Wyma.
On Monday, Blagojevich said he has done nothing wrong in his stewardship of the state and challenged critics to record him because his discussions were “always lawful.”