Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested Tuesday morning in Chicago on two counts each of federal corruption charges stemming from allegations Blagojevich was trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder.
The arrest is part of a three-year probe of “pay-to-play politics” in the governor’s administration. The criminal complaint by the FBI says each man was arrested on two charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.
The charges also relate to allegations that Blagojevich and Harris schemed with previously convicted defendants and Obama associates Antonin Rezko, Stuart Levine, Ali Ata and others to arrange financial benefits in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state employment, state contracts and access to state funds.
In addition, the case alleges that Blagojevich tried to influence the composition of The Chicago Tribune editorial board in exchange for state aid to the Tribune Company, which owns the newspaper.
Blagojevich and Harris will have an initial appearance in U.S. District Court Tuesday.
A statement by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Grant said Blagojevich and Harris “allegedly conspired to sell U.S. Senate appointment, engaged in pay-to-play schemes and threatened to withhold state assistance to Tribune Company for Wrigley Field to induce (the) purge of newspaper editorial writers.”
“The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering,” Fitzgerald said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
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