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Feds Rush Case Against Gov

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Federal authorities in Chicago are continuing their investigation into Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s administration. They arrested and charged the governor Tuesday but the case is far from being tied up with a pretty bow.

Federal authorities in Chicago, the U.S. attorney’s office, the FBI, the postal inspection service, the IRS, they’ve all been cooperating on an investigation into Blagojevich’s administration for five years. The investigation isn’t complete and they veered from the regular script when they arrested the governor yesterday. Fitzgerald says they acted in haste because Blagojevich was in the middle of a quote, “corruption crime spree” and they wanted to stop it now.

FITZGERALD: I was not going to wait until March, or April, or May to get it all nice and tidy and then bring charges and then say, by the way, all this bad stuff happened in December because no one was aware of it. I think that would be irresponsible.

The bad stuff? Well there a few pressing issues. In their complaint, prosecutors say Blagojevich was trying to corruptly raise as much money as he could before January 1, because that’s when new ethics legislation goes into effect that would prevent him from taking contributions from companies doing business with the state. There was also the time pressure surrounding Illinois’ vacant Senate seat. As governor, Blagojevich gets to decide who will replace Barack Obama and prosecutors allege that Blagojevich was trying to appoint someone who would pay him back with campaign cash or a high-paying job for him or his wife.

And then there is the bizarre allegation that Blagojevich planned to hold back state financing which would help the Tribune Company sell the cCubs unless certain tribune editorial writers were fired.

FITZGERALD: I laid awake at night worrying whether I’d read in the paper in the morning that when there were lay-offs that we’d find out that that person was laid-off.

So prosecutors brought charges now. And Fitzgerald says he thinks the extra attention will put the kibosh on the alleged schemes.

FITZGERALD: If I were someone who wanted to pay to play, I think this would be about the worst time to try to make a cash contribution to someone to get something illegal and there’s a lot to be said for exposing this to the sunlight.

Authorities say they learned a lot from the wire taps that were on phones at the governors fund raising office and home over the last couple months. Robert Grant is the Special Agent in charge of Chicago’s FBI.

GRANT: The FBI agents that participated in this wire tap investigation, were thoroughly disgusted and revolted by what they heard and I think even the most cynical agents in our office were shocked.

Grant says they’ll now look into the schemes they learned about on those recorded phone calls. The calls may also help corroborate other evidence prosecutors have been collecting over the last five years. Much of that evidence was heard at the trial of Tony Rezko, a political fundraiser for Blagojevich who was convicted this year for shaking campaign contributions out of companies hoping to do business with the state. Rezko and a former State official Ali Ata are among the people who have told prosecutors that Blagojevich was in on pay to play schemes. Blagojevich is charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of a bribe. His lawyer says the governor doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong and say Blagojevich is asking Illinois residents to have faith in him.

I’m Robert Wildeboer, Chicago Public Radio.

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