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Blagojevich's chief of staff pleads guilty

Harris to testify against former governor

by Bethany Jaeger

John Harris, a key adviser to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, will testify against his former boss when Blagojevich’s federal corruption trial starts in June 2010.

He was Blagojevich’s chief of staff from 2005 until the governor’s arrest in late 2008. He pleaded guilty in July to one count of wire fraud in exchange for a minimum prison sentence of three years or less.

According to his plea agreement, Harris frequently schemed with Blagojevich for ways the embattled governor could personally and financially benefit from his power to appoint a U.S. senator who would fill the seat vacated by President Barack Obama. However, Harris says he sometimes intentionally did not follow the governor’s orders and raised concerns about schemes that would appear as direct quid pro quo.

The plea says that on October 6, about a month before Obama’s election as president, Harris told Blagojevich he could use the Senate appointment to reward an ally or to make a new ally “but that Blagojevich could not trade the Senate seat for something for himself.”

On the other hand, the plea reads, “[Harris] understood that Blagojevich’s personal financial circumstances and security were a significant consideration for Blagojevich in his analysis of whom he should name to the Senate seat.” The plea outlines instances in which Harris suggested ways Blagojevich could financially benefit by seeking high-paying jobs through federally funded foundations or unions with close ties to Obama. He also arranged meetings between Patty Blagojevich, the governor’s wife, and financial investment firms that did pension business with the state to appease the governor’s wishes of finding his wife a lucrative job.

The plea also contains new details about a scheme in which Blagojevich allegedly told Harris to tell the Chicago Tribune’s financial adviser that the governor would withhold state financial support regarding the Cubs’ Wrigley Field baseball stadium unless the Tribune owner fired members of the editorial board. According to the plea, Harris told Blagojevich he would relay the threat to withhold state funding, but when talking to the executive about the newspaper’s negative publicity of the governor, Harris did not directly mention the threat.

Insider sentenced

Christopher Kelly, former campaign manager to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, will serve 37 months in federal prison for tax fraud.

His first of two federal indictments, as of mid-July, said he used corporate funds from his roofing and consulting firms to pay illegal gambling debt and bookies.

He faces another set of charges related to a kickback scheme with his construction firm, where he allegedly funneled more than $1.18 million in proceeds from fraudulent contracts.

 

Illinois Issues, July 2009

 

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