Gov. Rod Blagojevich became the state's first Democratic chief executive in more than a quarter of a century after vowing to reform what he labeled the culture of corruption surrounding his predecessor that had fed deep cynicism among Illinoisans.
But little more than a year after replacing George Ryan in office in 2003, Blagojevich found his administration at the early stages of what became a host of state and federal investigations into allegations of wrongdoing involving state hiring, board appointments, contracting and fundraising that battered his tenure.
Antoin "Tony" Rezko conspired with longtime GOP government apparatchik Stuart Levine to split kickbacks from a state pension deal. Rezko also helped ensure Levine's reappointment to a state pension board.
As part of the investigation, in which 13 people have been indicted or convicted, kickbacks were often the prescribed price of doing high-level business, be it the pension board for state teachers or the panel that decided whether hospitals could expand their facilities. And the extortion efforts went beyond merely enriching the participants to include soliciting campaign funds for Blagojevich.
At the same time, as Blagojevich began gearing up for his 2006 re-election bid, the clouds of scandal grew deeper. U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald acknowledged federal prosecutors had spent more than a year investigating fraud in state hiring that involved "multiple state agencies" and developed "a number of credible witnesses." Federal prosecutors also were looking into a $1,500 check written to one of Blagojevich's children by the husband of a recently appointed state worker.
In the month before Blagojevich was re-elected, Rezko was indicted on corruption charges while his ally, Levine, pleaded guilty to wringing cash from firms seeking state business. Federal prosecutors also were alleging Rezko and Christopher Kelly, another top fundraiser and adviser to the governor, had been influence peddling. Kelly later was indicted on unrelated federal tax charges.
They also began investigating real estate deals by First Lady Patricia Blagojevich in which she received hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions from politically connected clients, some of whom won millions of dollars in state business.
As prosecutors won a conviction in June of this year on Rezko's corruption charges, they also began climbing the ladder of Blagojevich's inner circle. In October, the Tribune disclosed that John Wyma, the governor's longtime friend, former congressional chief of staff and major state lobbyist, was named in a subpoena over his work for a hospital client.
On Friday, the Tribune disclosed Wyma was cooperating with federal authorities and his cooperation led to investigators recording the governor.
Here is a timeline of the investigation:
June 7, 2004: Stuart Levine, a longtime Republican reappointed to the powerful Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, abruptly resigns on the eve of several important hospital expansion votes. The revelation is the first indication that the Blagojevich administration is under federal criminal investigation.
June 27, 2004: The Tribune discloses that an official for one hospital seeking permission to expand was wearing a federal bug during meetings in an effort to expose extortion attempts by Levine and others for contributions to Blagojevich.
July 2, 2004: Levine resigns from his seat on the board of the state Teachers' Retirement System. It remains undisclosed that federal authorities had secretly taped Levine's conversations.
May 9, 2005: Levine is indicted on corruption charges. Federal subpoenas are issued to numerous administration sources, including top Blagojevich fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko
May 20, 2005: The governor's office acknowledges to the Tribune that Rezko has an ongoing eight-year professional relationship with Patricia Blagojevich's home-based real estate brokerage, River Realty Inc.
Sept 15, 2005: Prominent Democratic fundraiser Joseph Cari and a former lawyer for the state's teacher's pension board pleads guilty in an extortion scheme that steered state pension business to favored companies in exchange for campaign contributions to a high-ranking public official described in court documents only as "Public official A."
Oct. 25, 2005: The Tribune discloses a federal grand jury investigation into the alleged political hiring practices of the Blagojevich administration, including the governor's top hiring aide, Joseph Cini.
Sept. 10, 2006: The Tribune reveals that the FBI is investigating allegations by a one-time Blagojevich family friend that she had concerns her state job may have come in return for a $1,500 personal check her husband wrote to one of Blagojevich's children.
Sept. 17, 2006: The Tribune reports that the Blagojevich administration skirted state hiring rules to give jobs to at least 360 people whose applications were sent through back channels by the governor's offices and politically connected officials.