Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich sought to sell for cash or favors the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama, federal authorities said Tuesday.
Mr. Blagojevich, 51, and his Chief of Staff John Harris, 46, were arrested by FBI agents on corruption charges that also included threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field. Authorities say Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, hoped the move would induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members who had been critical of him.
Authorities say the two men also sought to exchange official actions, such as state jobs and contracts, for campaign contributions.
“At the end of the day, the conduct we have before us is appalling,” said U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, whose office is prosecuting the case.
The scheme, according to authorities, included Antoin Rezko, a convicted real estate developer who raised money for Mr. Obama. Rezko was Mr. Blagojevich’s principal fundraiser and is now cooperating with federal authorities in the hopes of receiving a lesser sentence, according to court records.
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Mr. Fitzgerald said there is no evidence Mr. Obama was aware of any of the governor’s wrongdoing.
A reporter asked if Mr. Obama had been in contact with Mr. Blagojevich about the senate seat he vacated last month after winning the presidency.
“Obviously like the rest of the people of Illinois I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the US attorney’s office today,” said Mr. Obama at a press conference in Chicago. “But as this is a ongoing investigation involving the Governor I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on the issue at this time.”
The arrests follow a lengthy investigation that included authorities using wire taps to record conversations involving Mr. Blagojevich.
Agents received the wire taps last month after learning Mr. Blagojevich had accelerated his corrupt fundraising practices before a new state ethics law takes effect Jan. 1 that would significantly limit him raising money from people and businesses doing business with the state, authorities say.
In the last month, according to investigators, Mr. Blagojevich was recorded discussing several scenarios for exchanging the vacant senate seat that included a substantial salary for himself at a either a nonprofit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions; placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might earn as much as $150,000 a year; promises of campaign funds including cash up front; and a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.
Mr. Obama resigned his Senate seat Nov. 16 and, as governor, Mr. Blagojevich has authority to appoint a replacement to fulfill Mr. Obama’s term.
FBI Agents arrested Mr. Blagojevich and Mr. Harris at their homes Tuesday morning. Both men are expected to appear in federal court later this afternoon.