- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) - Rod Blagojevich appeared relaxed and breezy, far from stressed. He soaked up the attention as reporters and cameras swirled around him, almost as if he were back on the campaign trail, running for governor one more time _ and expecting to win.

When a television cameraman stood atop a concrete pillar outside Chicago’s federal courthouse to get a shot from above, Blagojevich obligingly looked up and smiled. He even stopped in the lobby to hug and kiss a well-wisher.

In a courtroom upstairs, the impeached and ousted governor said little as he pleaded not guilty Tuesday to racketeering and fraud charges that could send him to federal prison for years.

Downstairs, he smiled and chatted amiably despite finding himself without a full legal team in place and facing serious money woes _ expressing the same easy confidence displayed since his Dec. 9 arrest on corruption charges that include allegations of a scheme to sell President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat.

An attorney close to his legal defense said Blagojevich even wants the court’s permission to leave the country to appear on a reality TV show in the Costa Rican jungle. The attorney spoke on condition of anonymity, saying the plan is confidential, but NBC said it wants Blagojevich to appear on “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!”

“Now we can begin the process of getting the truth out and I can clear my name and vindicate myself,” Blagojevich said at the courthouse.

“It’s the end of the beginning in one respect but it’s the beginning of another aspect” of the case, he said. “That is the beginning of me being able to prove and clear my name and be vindicated of what are inaccurate allegations.”

Blagojevich, 52, is charged with scheming to auction off the Senate seat, attempting to extort campaign money from companies seeking state business and plotting to use the financial muscle of the governor’s office to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers calling for his impeachment.

He was arrested Dec. 9 after authorities said he was heard on FBI wiretaps discussing swapping the Obama seat for a Cabinet post, a new job or campaign money. A federal grand jury returned a 19-count indictment April 2 that alleges corruption beginning before Blagojevich even took office.

At the 10-minute arraignment, Blagojevich and Sorosky, a longtime friend and the only attorney currently on the case, entered the not guilty plea.

Blagojevich faces charges including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy and attempted extortion, and making false statements. Most of the charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Prosecutors must give the defense team mounds of documents and recordings made over years of investigation. Defense attorneys can then be expected to ask Zagel to throw out much of it.

“The circumstances of these wiretaps hasn’t been flushed out yet,” said DePaul University law professor Leonard Cavise. “We can expect all kinds of motions to suppress evidence. They will challenge the warrants. They will challenge whether the government had probable cause” to tap Blagojevich’s home and campaign office phones.

The sheer bulk of evidence defense attorneys must sift through underlines the enormous problem facing Blagojevich: his legal team isn’t in place.

The lack of a legal team can be traced to a lack of money.

Sorosky told Zagel he is seeking prosecutors’ permission to tap Blagojevich’s $2 million campaign fund to pay additional attorneys because much more legal muscle is needed to mount an adequate defense.

“It’s just not possible for just one lawyer to defend Mr. Blagojevich, no matter who that lawyer may be,” Sorosky told the judge.

Outside court, Sorosky said even with the campaign fund Blagojevich “does not have sufficient funds to pay for lawyers.” He recalled that the blue-chip law firm of Winston & Strawn had defended former Gov. George Ryan on racketeering and fraud charges and that chief counsel Dan K. Webb estimated the total cost at millions of dollars.

Winston & Strawn, headed at the time by longtime Ryan friend former Gov. James R. Thompson, defended Ryan free of charge. But no big-name lawyers are lining up to defend Blagojevich unless they are assured of being paid.

“What was it that Jerry Maguire said?” Sorosky said as he entered a coffee shop across from the courthouse still trailed by reporters and cameras.

“Show me the money,” a television reporter yelled out.

One of the city’s top criminal lawyers, Edward M. Genson, had been Blagoejvich’s chief defense counsel. But he resigned after the former governor ignored Genson’s entreaties to stop sounding off in television interviews.

Genson law partner Terence P. Gillespie announced more than a month later that he would be stepping in. But he had to withdraw because he previously represented a Blagojevich co-defendant, Springfield millionaire William Cellini.

Attention has recently focused on the possibility that veteran defense attorney Thomas Breen might be brought in. But no agreement has been reached so far.

Robert Blagojevich, a self-employed real estate investor, told reporters after entering his not guilty plea that he was “prepared to cope with the charges and work through them.”

His attorney, Michael Ettinger, acknowledged the case has put stress on the brothers’ relationship. Rod Blagojevich brought his brother on to head his campaign fund after federal prosecutors began investigating an earlier fund chairman, businessman Christopher G. Kelly.

“Everything is going to work out between the two of them and obviously the type of situation they’re both in, it’s a little strain, but everything’s fine,” Ettinger said.

Kelly and Cellini are to be arraigned Thursday as is co-defendant John Harris, a former Blagojevich chief of staff whose attorneys have said he is cooperating in the government’s investigation. Another former chief of staff, Alonzo Monk, is to be arraigned next week.

___

Associated Press writers Deanna Bellandi, Michael Tarm and Sophia Tareen contributed to this report.

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