Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.

With friends like these ... who needs hostile witnesses?

In the wake of one of the most sweeping public-corruption indictments in Illinois history, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich faces a legal landscape in which his former friends are turning against him, his wife remains in the cross hairs of federal prosecutors and his team of attorneys is again in disarray.

In short, his plan to fight charges that he ran state government as a criminal enterprise for most of the decade has become a seemingly steep uphill climb.Late Friday afternoon, Blagojevich lost a leading criminal-defense lawyer for the second time since his December arrest, as veteran attorney Terence Gillespie said he was bowing out, citing a conflict of interest. Gillespie was hired months ago to assist in the defense of indicted Springfield power broker William Cellini, so when prosecutors on Thursday added Blagojevich's case to Cellini's pending indictment, it forced Gillespie's hand.

"I never had imagined the Cellini matter would be joined up with the Blagojevich case," Gillespie said.

Attorney Edward Genson, Gillespie's partner, left the case this year amid Blagojevich's publicity blitz, saying he could not continue because the former governor was not listening to his advice.

The move once again leaves the ex-governor in legal limbo and in need of a top-flight trial lawyer.

It comes on the heels of Thursday's indictment and disclosures that three of his former chiefs of staff -- onetime Blagojevich friends John Wyma and Alonzo "Lon" Monk as well as John Harris -- are expected to cooperate with the government.

In addition, former top fundraiser and Blagojevich insider Antoin "Tony" Rezko has started providing prosecutors with detailed information about what prosecutors have termed the "Blagojevich Enterprise." And former Deputy Gov. Bob Greenlee is cooperating as well.

Their testimony will be key as the government tries to provide an insider's view of how the top aides allegedly brought in campaign cash and kickbacks by trading everything from appointments to boards and commissions to the awarding of state business and even the appointment of a U.S. senator.

Legal experts said Thursday's indictment made it clear prosecutors are far from finished investigating the case.

"I think this is a highlight, but this indictment is by no means the end of this," said former prosecutor Ronald Safer, now a defense lawyer who once fielded federal subpoenas on behalf of the governor's office.

"There's a whole infrastructure in state government that supported what's in these allegations, and I think prosecutors will continue to investigate that," he said.

Unlike some recent corruption cases that centered on the somewhat esoteric legal theory that the public is entitled to honest services from elected officials, the Blagojevich charges included "old-fashioned, use-your-office-to-put-money-in-your-pocket graft," Safer noted.

The indictment said one of the ways that happened was that co-schemer Rezko steered bogus real estate contracts to Blagojevich's wife, Patricia. Investigators had long probed whether such work was a way for insiders to provide the former governor's family with illicit cash.

Sources have said the grand jury spent significant time recently looking at such deals, and the indictment made it clear Patricia Blagojevich remains in legal jeopardy.

Many have speculated the government has not yet charged Patricia Blagojevich in a strategic move to offer Rod Blagojevich the chance to spare her by pleading guilty and avoiding a trial. Others have said they think sparing Patricia Blagojevich could be viewed as a good public-relations move because prosecutors do not want to appear to be threatening to take both parents from the Blagojevich children.

Safer said he believes any offer to cut the former governor's wife a deal would be made only after Patricia Blagojevich was charged. It may be that prosecutors still are building that part of the case.

Former prosecutor Dean Polales agreed, saying that to charge her, prosecutors would have to show she was a knowing participant in a corrupt act. Just receiving the money from Rezko isn't enough, he said.

"Paying somebody to do a job and giving them benefits and making their lives easier out of friendship isn't a crime," Polales said.Polales, who now focuses on white-collar criminal defense at Ungaretti & Harris, said Patricia Blagojevich was highlighted in the indictment because it is important to prove the governor was receiving favors as part of his alleged corrupt relationship that allowed Rezko to have vast influence inside Blagojevich's administration. He said investigators are still likely looking for evidence to determine whether Patricia Blagojevich knew of that arrangement and that the payments to her were part of the deal.

He also said the chances are "slim to none" that the government could compel Patricia Blagojevich to testify against her husband "unless the government can make a showing that they participated in a crime together. Otherwise, their private conversations are presumed confidential ... [and] one can't be compelled to testify against the other," he said.

The indictment touched briefly on many of the allegations in December's criminal complaint that saw Blagojevich rousted from his home and arrested by FBI agents. But sources have said the grand jury is not finished exploring some of those areas and will hear from more witnesses in the coming weeks.

Of most notable interest to authorities may be Blagojevich's final alleged attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. Officials say Blagojevich was approached by an associate of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) who offered $1.5 million in campaign contributions in exchange for Jackson's appointment to the seat.

Blagojevich is accused of telling his brother, Robert, who led his campaign fund and who also was indicted Thursday, to tell Oak Brook businessman Raghuveer Nayak to begin the fundraising effort in exchange for Jackson's appointment. Neither Jackson nor Nayak have been accused of wrongdoing.

Nayak is a longtime supporter of Jackson and Blagojevich who traveled with the congressman's father, Rev. Jesse Jackson, to India and once was a partner with the congressman's brother, Jonathan. A Nayak-sponsored fundraiser was held for Blagojevich just days before his arrest.

Nayak also has offered to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

------------

jcoen@tribune.com

jchase@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Comments
Loading