Rod Blagojevich was so desperate for money that he tried to shake down everyone from a racetrack owner to a children's hospital executive to president-elect Barack Obama, a federal prosecutor told jurors Monday during closing arguments at the former Illinois governor's corruption trial.
The reason was that Blagojevich was broke and "he needed this golden ticket," said prosecutor Chris Niewoehner, who methodically reviewed the highlights of the seven-week trial, during which jurors heard Blagojevich on hours of secretly recorded FBI wiretap tapes.
Niewoehner said Blagojevich ramped up his alleged moneymaking schemes in late 2008 because a new ethics law taking effect on Jan. 1, 2009, would have limited the amount of money he could accept from people and businesses doing business with the state.
The prosecutor also countered defense suggestions that Blagojevich never acted on any alleged schemes.
On a large screen, he displayed a list under the headline, "Blagojevich Actions in Senate Shakedown." Blagojevich wanted Obama to give him a Cabinet post in return for appointing Obama's friend Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat, and ordered aides to negotiate with people he believed were White House emissaries, prosecutors said.
Niewoehner said jurors heard Blagojevich try to shake down Obama for a job, heard him trying to get a $100,000 campaign contribution in exchange for signing a racetrack bill and trying to shake down a children's hospital executive for another contribution.
And, he said, Blagojevich lied to the FBI about the alleged schemes.
Niewoehner also urged jurors to "follow the money," citing witnesses who spoke about how money was "laundered" through now-convicted fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko and eventually given to Patti Blagojevich as bogus commissions for real estate work.
He also said that by the end of 2008, Blagojevich's personal debt had climbed 400 percent in six years. Niewoehner said Blagojevich's money woes also were because he spent elaborately on himself and his wife.
The prosecutor said that the people who previously had helped Blagojevich raise money essentially had to stop their fundraising because of FBI investigations into his inner circle.
Blagojevich, Niewoehner said, was "at the center of corrupt individuals."
"When you agree with someone else to commit a crime, you committed one," said Niewoehner, raising his voice slightly. "Talking is the crime, ladies and gentlemen."
Blagojevich's attorneys said their message to jurors will be simple: "First and foremost, the government has proved nothing," Sam Adam Jr. said over the weekend.
Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to scheming to trade or sell Obama's old Senate seat and illegally pressuring people for campaign contributions. If convicted, he could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, though he is sure to get much less time under federal guidelines.
His brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell the Senate seat and plotting to illegally pressure a racetrack owner for a $100,000 campaign contribution.
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