Mollie Halpern: Former Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich will surrender this week to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to begin his 14-year sentence. Blagojevich, a lawyer and former state prosecutor, state legislator, and U.S. congressman, was convicted on 18 felony counts of corruption.
Daniel W. Cain: Corruption is a priority for the FBI and for the Chicago office, and we do take it very seriously.
Halpern: Hi, I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau, and you’re listening to Inside the FBI.
Coming up, the chain of events that led the FBI to investigate Blagojevich, how the FBI collected the evidence used to convict the former governor, and excerpts from a court-authorized tape recording of Blagojevich.
But first, let’s go back to October 2008, when the FBI received information that indicated Blagojevich was soliciting campaign contributions in exchange for state official actions. That information came from John Wyma—a close friend and associate of Blagojevich—who was participating in fundraising meetings for the politician’s campaign committee.
Armed with the information Wyma had come forward with, along with other information investigators had obtained, the FBI received authorization from the U.S. District Court in Chicago to install microphones in Blagojevich’s campaign office. Case agent Daniel Cain says wiretaps were also installed on telephones used by Blagojevich and his associates.
Cain: It was critical that we were able to file the affidavit with information that convinced a judge that there was sufficient probable cause in order to install the microphones and have the wiretaps. This allowed agents to surreptitiously listen and record conversations that could serve as evidence of fraud and extortion.
Halpern: Investigators recorded criminal conversations for seven weeks. Here’s a listen to one of those recorded conversations:
Rod Blagojevich: I told my nephew Alex, he just turned 26 today…I said, ‘Alex,’ you know, I call him for his birthday and I said, ‘It’s just too bad you’re not four years older ‘cause I could a given you a U.S. Senate seat for your birthday.’
Doug Scofield: (Laughs) Yeah.
Blagojevich: You know what I mean? I mean I, I’ve got this thing, and it’s (expletive) golden.
Halpern: The recordings revealed that Blagojevich planned to leverage his power as governor to appoint a U.S. senator to the seat vacated by then-President-Elect Barack Obama in exchange for benefits for himself…
Cain: …such as a job, millions of dollars into an organization that he would control, or a $1.5 million donation into his campaign fund. They also talked about obtaining donations in exchange for signing racetrack legislation and increasing pediatric reimbursement rates from the state of Illinois to a children’s hospital.
Halpern: On the morning of December 9, 2008 the FBI arrested Rod Blagojevich. The investigation was an offshoot of a major corruption case code named Board Games that began five years earlier. As that case evolved, the FBI interviewed Blagojevich a couple of times into aspects of his administration.
Operation Board Games resulted in convictions against 15 defendants, including two former chiefs of staff for Blagojevich while he was governor. The turning point happened when onetime friend John Wyma came forward with information. Wyma later testified against Blagojevich.
Blagojevich went to trial in 2010. He was convicted of making a false statement to the FBI during an interview back in 2005 but was cleared of other corruption charges.
Blagojevich went to trial again in 2011 and was convicted on 17 additional counts, including wire fraud, attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion, soliciting bribes, and conspiracy to solicit and accept bribes.
Cain: Our investigation and the evidence collected during the investigation proved that corruption was taking place. The judge in the sentencing hearing was sending a clear message that corruption would not be tolerated in our government in Illinois, so we believe that we did our job.
Halpern: The judge sentenced Blagojevich to 14 years in federal prison—the longest-ever imposed on a former governor in the Northern District of Illinois. The judge also imposed a fine of $20,000 and two years of supervised release. Blagojevich was also ordered to pay a special assessment of $1,800, or $100 on each count of conviction.
Daniel Cain was the lead investigator, but a team of FBI professional support employees and special agents also worked the Blagojevich case. The FBI also worked with its law enforcement partners from the IRS, the U.S. Department of Labor Inspector General’s Office, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Cain: These are team investigations that involve more than one or two agents, and without the teamwork that is brought by the FBI and with other agencies, these types of investigations would not succeed.
Halpern: Rod Blagojevich is to report to federal prison on March 15, 2012.
I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau, and you’ve been listening to Inside the FBI.
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