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Illinois Governor Arrested, Charged With Corruption

  • VOA News

The governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, was arrested at his Chicago home Tuesday after prosecutors said he was caught on wiretaps scheming to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. The governor was later released on 45-hundred dollars bond.

FBI agents arrested the Democratic governor on corruption charges and took him away while his family was still asleep. His chief of staff, John Harris, was arrested separately.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said investigators stepped in to end what he characterized as a "political corruption crime spree." He said investigators intercepted telephone calls and recorded conversations that directly implicated the Democratic governor.

Blagojevich, who turns 52on Wednesday denies wrongdoing. He and Harris face charges of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and a count of solicitation of bribery.

Fitzgerald says the governor tried to use the power of his office for personal gain, and tried to get high-paying jobs, money or campaign contributions for himself or his wife in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Senate.

Mr. Obama resigned his Senate seat following his victory in the U.S. presidential election. In Illinois, the governor has the power to name a successor.

Mr. Obama told reporters Tuesday he had no contact with the governor about the seat. Fitzgerald says his office makes no allegations about whether the president-elect was aware of Blagojevich's actions.

Blagojevich says the allegations against him will have no impact on how Illinois is governed.

Officials say they felt compelled to act now because it appeared the governor was about to act on some of the allegations, including the Senate appointment.

Blagojevich also is charged with soliciting bribes and threatening to withhold state aid to a newspaper company (the Tribune Company) unless editorial staff members critical of the governor were fired. Fitzgerald says Blagojevich also threatened to withdraw funding from a children's hospital unless its executive paid him 50-thousand dollars.

Fitzgerald says that while Blagojevich is still the state's governor, it would be much more difficult for him to move ahead with any of his alleged schemes now that they have been made public.

Prosecutors say they started investigating the governor for alleged corruption three years ago.

Blagojevich succeeded former Illinois Governor George Ryan, a Republican, who is serving a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence on corruption charges, stemming from his activities as governor and Illinois secretary of state.

Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat, is petitioning U.S. President George Bush to commute Ryan's sentence before he leaves office in January.

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