One of Rod Blagojevich's closest friends, a key aide who was by his side through most of his political career, is headed for the witness stand Wednesday as testimony begins in the former Illinois governor's corruption trial.
Alonzo "Lon" Monk, Blagojevich's law school roommate and later his first chief of staff in the governor's office, pleaded guilty to wire fraud last year and agreed to testify in return for a lenient sentence.
The trial got under way in earnest Tuesday with prosecutors describing the impeached 53-year-old governor as awash in debt and grasping for millions of dollars in shakedown money, while his defense attorney said he was merely fooled by sinister members of his corrupt inner circle.
"When he was supposed to be asking, 'What about the people I represent?' he was asking, 'What about me?'" Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie E. Hamilton said in her opening statement.
Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to scheming to profit illegally from his power to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama following his November 2008 election. Blagojevich also denies launching a racketeering scheme within the governor's office to bring in payoffs.
His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, a Nashville, Tenn., businessman, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the plot to sell the Senate seat and to scheming to illegally pressure a racetrack owner, who wanted the governor's signature on legislation involving the tracks, for campaign money.
In his opening statement Tuesday, defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. denied that the governor had schemed to sell the Senate seat. He said Blagojevich had planned to make a deal with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to put the other politician's daughter, state Attorney General Lisa Madigan, in the seat in exchange for the passage of health care and jobs legislation along with a tax cut.
Prosecutors plan to call as their leadoff witness FBI special agent Dan Cain, who for years has led the federal investigation that first resulted in the conviction of key Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko and now the trial of the former governor himself. Cain is likely to outline the investigation.
He is due to be followed to the stand by Monk, Blagojevich's roommate at Pepperdine University law school in California and later his top aide and campaign manager. Monk pleaded guilty to charges that he conspired to shake down racetrack owner John Johnson for a large campaign contribution.
Adam was already battering Monk's image on Tuesday.
"He personifies California," Adam said. "His beautiful tanned skin, his beautiful hair."
According to Adam, Blagojevich, a steelworker's son, was awed when he visited the home of Monk's father, a wealthy celebrity doctor, "a gynecologist to the stars," and saw peacocks grazing on the front lawn.
"He was chasing rats off his back porch and here this guy has peacocks," Adam said.
Monk was a Los Angeles sports agent when Blagojevich, then a congressman from a district on Chicago's north side, called him to Washington to work in his office. Monk went on to manage Blagojevich's campaigns.
As his chief of staff, he started accepting cash from Rezko, Hamilton told the jurors. She said the money was aimed at providing Rezko with the influence to operate a $7 million kickback scheme.
She said Blagojevich's wife, Patti, was getting $12,000 a month for more than a year from Rezko to provide the real estate developer and political fundraiser with even more clout.
Adam's opening statement was delivered in a revival-meeting style. He paced rapidly, at one point actually running from the defense table to stand in front of the jury box. He hollered, whispered and pointed with his arm extended as he claimed that Blagojevich hadn't made any illegal profits while in office.
Federal agents had found no illegal bank accounts, he said.
"The same people who were chasing bin Laden were chasing him," Adam said. But he said that all they discovered was that Blagojevich is broke. "Not a dime, not a penny," he shouted.
He said Blagojevich made an error in judgment by appointing Monk as his chief of staff and, in effect, the guardian of the state's $52 billion annual budget.
"He was a volleyball agent," Adam said. "That's the guy he picked."
Adam ripped into Rezko as "the Bernie Madoff of Chicago," referring to the disgraced financier who is serving a 150-year prison term. And he said he "fooled everybody, with due respect, governor, including you."
Adam said neither Rezko nor Monk told Blagojevich what they were doing and the governor remained completely unaware. Adam also defended Patti Blagojevich as a hardworking woman who had earned her money.
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