Illinois First Lady Patricia Blagojevich walked away from her successful career as a real estate agent earlier this year amid scrutiny from federal agents probing whether clients hired her to win favor from her husband's administration.
With her commissions plummeting and her most famous client, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, in prison on a corruption conviction, her once-lucrative career all but came to an end.
The Blagojeviches are not charged with any wrongdoing, and the financial affairs of first ladies are rarely the subject of public scrutiny. Since the Tribune first disclosed her eight-year financial relationship with Rezko, though, authorities have taken an interest in many of her real estate deals.
The Blagojeviches still refuse to say how much her home-based River Realty Inc. made from Rezko.
But a Tribune analysis of public records, along with real estate listings and interviews, reveals it earned more than $700,000 in commissions on other deals after her husband began raising money in 2000 for his first run for governor.
Of those commissions, the Tribune found that more than three-quarters came from clients with connections.
Patricia Blagojevich declined to be interviewed. Lucio Guerrero, a spokesman for the governor, said Patricia Blagojevich was hired on her merits and it would be a "disservice" to suggest otherwise.
Blagojevich, 43, now works as a full-time fundraiser for the Chicago Christian Industrial League--a job she started in September after a longtime political ally of her husband's talked to the director of the nonprofit homeless agency.
Before that, she had a brief job as an investment banker after touting her ability to land state business, according to the head of North Star Investment Management.
"I'm not going to lie to you, it would have been great for us to get one of the state pension funds," said Peter Contos, a North Star executive listed as the contact on her federal license application.
"But after three months she brought in no business," Contos said. "Obviously, her connections weren't as strong as advertised."
Records show she began working for the Chicago investment banking house in March, just before passing her federal exam to become an investment banker. She passed her state exam in May.
Contos said his firm decided to hire Blagojevich, who has a degree in economics from the University of Illinois, because of her political ties. He said she was recommended to him by an administrative staff member.
"This is not the kind of firm for rookies," he said, adding there are no training programs. "You come here, you either bring in business or you do not succeed. We had several talks with her about that."
Contos said he and others at North Star encouraged her to find work at a bigger firm, but she touted her connections and her ability to bring in business. "That's what we were thinking--it was worth a shot. Usually we tell people to work at a big firm for a few years and come here when they have clients and can bring business."
Contos said he and his partners had no knowledge of any federal investigation and she did not disclose any on her federal license application. He said Blagojevich answered "no" to the question on the 28-page application that asks, "Have you been notified, in writing, that you are now the subject of any investigation?"
Contos said he began learning of the scrutiny surrounding her after she started working for him.
"We started thinking better of it," he said. "Even if she had brought in some business, the last thing I need is to be dealing with federal regulators the rest of my life."
Politics also played a role in Blagojevich securing her current job as the main fundraiser for the Chicago Christian Industrial League.
Judith McIntyre, then the executive director of the grass-roots organization, said she spent six months searching for a development director before speaking with Gery Chico, a former U.S. Senate candidate whom McIntyre knew from their days working for Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
"[He] said, 'I have a friend looking for a job,' " McIntyre recalled. "A few days later, the person called. It was Patti."
During a tour of the agency's West Side headquarters, Blagojevich and McIntyre hit it off, and McIntyre offered her the job, she said.
"I didn't see her as Mrs. Blagojevich. I saw her as someone who was touched by what she saw and wanted to help," McIntyre said. "She wants to so give back."
Chico said he didn't really help Blagojevich get the job--she did that on her own.
"I thought Mrs. Blagojevich would be an excellent fit," Chico said. "She wanted to do something of this nature, and I think I knew a little about what drives her. And let's face it--the first lady could help an organization like this."
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