Blagojevich corruption charges 'imminent'

An indictment is expected as early as today, charging ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich with presiding over a state government awash in political corruption.

The indictment that US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is expected to produce would replace a complaint charging Mr Blagojevich with plotting to trade or sell President Barack Obama’s former US Senate seat and a host of other corruption allegations.

While timing of grand jury meetings is never disclosed, today is believed to be the last before a deadline next Tuesday for the complaint to be replaced.

Mr Fitzgerald could ask US District Court Chief Judge James Holderman for an extension, but all signs point to an imminent indictment.

“We’re just hours away from a massive pay-to-play indictment against Governor Blagojevich and possibly others,” former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, who sent Governor George Ryan to prison for racketeering, said.

Mr Collins made the comment as he unveiled recommendations by a state reform commission launched in response to the corruption scandal surrounding Mr Blagojevich.

In addition to the Senate seat allegations, an affidavit accompanying the December complaint accuses Mr Blagojevich of trying to use his political power to pressure the Chicago Tribune newspaper to sack editorial writers calling for his impeachment.

Mr Blagojevich, 52, denies any wrongdoing. But the Democrat’s December 9 arrest ended his political career.

The Illinois House impeached him on January 9 and the state Senate convicted him and removed him from office on January 29.

He then took off on a surprise tour of national television talk shows to proclaim his innocence.

His initial chief defence counsel, Edward Genson, resigned, hinting Mr Blagojevich had ignored his advice to stay quiet.

Mr Blagojevich was first elected governor in 2002, promising “reform and renewal” with Ryan headed for prison.

But questions soon arose over his two top fund raisers, property developer Tony Rezko and roofing contractor Christopher Kelly.

A wide-ranging federal investigation began, covering everything from Mr Blagojevich’s hiring practices to property commissions Rezko paid to the governor’s wife.

The scandal haunted Mr Blagojevich’s tenure as governor.

Kelly pleaded guilty to a tax charge and 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 €5.2m in bribes.

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