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Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005 03:16 pm

“Public Official A”

The feds leave no doubt who they’re after, but do they have the goods?

The U.S. Attorney’s office allowed two guilty-plea agreements to weave a sinister tale last week about an alleged “fundraising strategy” supposedly headed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The alleged strategy was designed to strong-arm firms seeking business with the Teachers’ Retirement System and other state boards into hiring do-nothing consultants who would then kick money back to the governor’s campaign fund.
By including these allegations in the plea agreements — some of which didn’t seem necessary — the feds appear to have been going out of their way to point a flashing neon arrow right at Blagojevich and his two top fundraisers, Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko. Joe Cari’s plea agreement is the more interesting of the two. A one-time finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Cari claimed in the plea agreement that the infamous Stuart Levine told him that “a high-ranking Illinois public official (“Public Official A”), acting through two close associates, was selecting consultants for the private equity funds that appeared before the State Pension Funds.”
Several media reports and independent sources say that Blagojevich is Public Official A. Media reports and sources identify Rezko and Kelly as the governor’s top fundraisers and advisers.
According to Cari’s plea agreement, “Levine said that Public Official A, and his associates, were going to pick law firms, investment banking firms, and consultants that would help Public Official A.”
Levine was a longtime member of the TRS board and has been implicated in similar shenanigans at the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. He was reappointed to both boards by Blagojevich. Perhaps not coincidentally, many of the governor’s pals signed on as hospital representatives after Blagojevich was sworn in. What was the reason for hiring the consultants? “Levine told Cari that consultants selected by Levine and those associates would subsequently be required to make certain political or charitable contributions as directed by Levine and those associates.”
Cari was allegedly told by Levine to make sure that an investment company identified as “Firm 4” hire one of Public Official A’s guys as a consultant or he and the TRS board would reject an $85 million investment with the firm. “Cari talked to the general counsel for Firm 4. Cari said that Firm 4 had to sign the contract, or Firm 4’s application for funds would get pulled off the TRS agenda. Cari said that it was political and this was how Public Official A handled patronage.”
The governor’s office claims that the allegations shouldn’t be believed because they’re being made by “convicted extortionist” Cari and twice-indicted extortionist Levine. Levine may have misrepresented his connections with the governor’s team. Here is what Levine allegedly told Cari: “It was Cari’s understanding that if Levine did not want something to be approved by the TRS Board, it would not be approved. Levine had previously told Cari that he had the ability to control what would be on the TRS agenda.”
The feds don’t mention this in the plea agreements, but it turns out that Firm 4 ended up getting its $85 million investment with TRS when another board member intervened on its behalf. The firm never had to hire the consultant. So Levine apparently vastly inflated his importance on the board. He allegedly lied about that, so he may have also lied about the Blagojevich team’s so-called fundraising strategy.
On the other hand, Cari told prosecutors and Firm 4 that he had been through this sort of thing before with Public Official A: “Cari said that his private equity firm had agreed to hire a consultant in order to get funding from another State board.”
Interestingly enough, back when George Ryan was labeled “Official A” in an indictment of somebody else, it wasn’t completely clear at the time that the official was actually Ryan.
This time around, the feds left no doubt.
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