Defense Attorney: Blagojevich "Didn't Take a Dime"

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

CHICAGO (AP) - An attorney for Rod Blagojevich says the former governor is an honest man who "didn't take a dime."

Fiery defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. says by the end of the case, jurors will know that in their gut. In presenting the opening statement to jurors, he also says Blagojevich will take the stand on his own behalf.

Earlier, a federal prosecutor said Blagojevich sought to use his power as governor to get benefits for himself and his inner circle in a “series of illegal shakedowns.”

In her opening statement, prosecutor Carrie E. Hamilton methodically laid out what she called a pattern of lying, scheming and extortion that consumed the former Illinois governor's time in office, and intensified as his personal financial troubles deepened.

"When he was supposed to be asking, 'What about the people of Illinois,' he was asking, 'What about me?"' Hamilton said.

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. He also denies that he plotted to turn his power as governor into a moneymaking scheme for himself and insiders.

Hamilton told jurors that Blagojevich sought to arrange deals in which entities that got state funding or approvals would then contribute to his campaign, that he sought to line the pockets of himself and his closest allies, and that he lied to the FBI when questioned about his fundraising activities.

"In each one of these shakedowns, the message was clear .... 'Pay up or no state action,"' she said.

They may not have said it in that language, Hamilton said, but "clever or blatant, it was still a shakedown."

Hamilton said the pattern was that once Blagojevich detected interest from someone, he would try to find way to get something out of them. He used those close to him as "middlemen," she said, and they would try to find ways to funnel cash to the inner circle in way it couldn't be detected.

"They sat together to devise a way to divide up the state of Illinois for their own personal profit."

Hamilton painted a picture of Blagojevich's increasing desperation about his financial situation, and how that spurred his alleged schemes in the latter months of his governorship. She said Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, owed more than $200,000 in 2008 in consumer debt and his $170,000 salary was not enough.

Then, Obama was elected president. And Blagojevich had the power to appoint his successor to the Senate.

"For Gov. Blagojevich, his golden ticket arrived," Hamilton said.

The ousted governor sat listening with his head down, scribbling notes as the prosecutor spoke.

Hamilton said Blagojevich started to work out a plan of what he could get for that - maybe a job as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Perhaps millions of dollars that he could control after he was no longer governor, she said.

"What you will see," she reiterated, "is that he wanted to know 'What about me?"'

The former governor's co-defendant - and brother – Robert Blagojevich, 54, a Nashville, Tenn., businessman, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged plan to sell the Senate seat and plotting to illegally squeeze a racetrack owner for a hefty contribution to the Blagojevich campaign fund.

His attorney, Michael Ettinger, reminded jurors that Robert Blagojevich is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army reserve who served in missile unit based in Germany and stayed in the reserves for 16 years.

"Why am I telling you this? Because Robert Blagojevich ... is not about money," Ettinger said, raising his voice slightly for emphasis.

Hamilton had opened the trial of Antoin "Tony" Rezko, one of Blagojevich's top fundraisers, by describing him as "the man behind the curtain, pulling the strings." Rezko was convicted of fraud and other offenses.

The jury was sworn in earlier Tuesday. Including alternates, the panel has 11 women and seven men.

One of Blagojevich's attorneys, Sam Adam Jr., was expected to later present the opening statement to jurors for the defense. To date, Adam is best known for his theatrical - and successful - defense of R&B star R. Kelly two years ago. He'll deliver the opening for the ousted governor.

The judge has told Adam that he can have only an hour and 45 minutes for his statement even though he asked for up to two and a half hours.

Both the main courtroom and an overflow room were packed to capacity as opening arguments began.

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. He also denies that he plotted to turn his power as governor into a moneymaking scheme for himself and insiders.

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