Tags: US | Blagojevich | Trial

Agent: Blago Denied Tying Jobs to Campaign Cash

Tuesday, 06 Jul 2010 03:58 PM

Rod Blagojevich told FBI agents in a March 2005 interview that he never gave out state jobs and contracts as a reward for campaign contributions, an agent testified Tuesday at the former Illinois governor's corruption trial.

Supervisory special agent Patrick Murphy said that in the interview Blagojevich insisted that he maintained what he called a "firewall" between campaign fundraising and his official actions as governor and stayed "a million miles away from the issuance of state contracts."

Murphy said Blagojevich told him that he only occasionally and inadvertently learned contribution information and that he normally did not know details of who was donating and how much.

That was in sharp contrast to testimony from Chicago attorney Joseph Cari that the governor once told him state contracts were available to those who helped with fundraising. The jury also has heard former state official Ali Ata testify that he got his job after donating $50,000 to Blagojevich's campaign fund.

The 53-year-old Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to charges of scheming to profit from his power to appoint someone to President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat and pressuring people to donate money to his campaign.

The indictment also includes a charge that Blagojevich lied to FBI agents when he said jobs and contracts were never tied to campaign contributions. He has pleaded not guilty.

His brother, 54-year-old Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged Senate scheme.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. pressed Murphy about whether FBI agents had any grounds to suspect Blagojevich of wrongdoing going into the 3-hour interview on March 16, 2005.

"Did you show him one state contract (that was) related to fundraising?" Adam thundered, before a judge sustained an objection. Other times, Adam asked Murphy about the thoroughness of his interview.

As Murphy fielded sometimes-contentious questions from the defense, Blagojevich followed his testimony intently.

Real estate broker Marianne Piazzi testified Tuesday that she sold a townhouse on Chicago's north side in August 2003 for about $574,000. She testified that Blagojevich's wife, Patti, had nothing to do with the sale as far as she knew and that she had not known Patti Blagojevich at the time of the sale.

FBI agent Jane Ferguson testified that Patti Blagojevich received $44,000 in commission from real estate developer Tony Rezko for selling the same unit. The testimony was aimed at the prosecution's claim that Patti Blagojevich received payoffs from Rezko, who is awaiting sentencing for scheming to launch a $7 million kickback operation using his clout in the Blagojevich administration.

Earlier Tuesday, Judge James Zagel dismissed a person from the jury panel because of a "critical illness" in the family. The trial started with 12 jurors and four alternates. It was not clear if the dismissed panelist was a juror or alternate. Neither the prosecution nor the defense commented on the matter in court.

Prosecutors told Zagel before the Fourth of July break that they could wrap as soon as next week. Zagel has to rule on the admissibility of some evidence before the Blagojevich lawyers can mount their defenses.

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