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Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005 04:27 am

Casting a wide net

Prosecutors seem anxious to nail Blagojevich’s people

Something a bit out of the ordinary happened earlier this month. On a Saturday, the Chicago Tribune published a story about a relatively minor allegation of corruption at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. The next day, the Sun-Times ran a similar story. According to the newspaper, a longtime pal of the governor’s was given a high-level position at DCFS and then somehow ended up with a bunch of money in an account he controlled. It was a significant story but not really a huge deal in the pantheon of Illinois corruption. The unusual thing happened on the first business day after the stories appeared, when federal prosecutors immediately subpoenaed documents relating to the scandal. The DCFS inspector general is known to have forwarded the results of her investigation to an unnamed law-enforcement authority way back in late July, so it’s possible that the papers got a heads-up that something was about to go down with the federales — or investigators read the stories over the weekend and decided to take action on Monday. Back when George Ryan was governor, every time a news outlet broke a story that was even a little related to Ryan’s alleged corruption, the feds subpoenaed documents and hauled people into their offices for not-so-friendly visits.
It’s possible that we’re entering a similar phase with the administration of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. It was obvious last month what the feds were doing when they allowed two guilty pleas alleging corruption at the Teachers’ Retirement System to contain unnecessary language describing an alleged “fundraising strategy” supposedly perpetrated by the governor and his two top fundraisers, Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko. As I’ve already noted, if the feds didn’t have their collective eye on the governor’s operation, they most likely would have kept the allegations by two admitted felons out of the agreements. Rounding up and then putting the arm on a few minor suspects would be an expected next step if prosecutors want to build a case against the state’s highest executive. We’ll just have to wait and see. The Blagojevich administration has proved fertile ground for investigators. Though we haven’t seen any high-level convictions yet, the “G” is crawling all over the place. And remember: The George Ryan probe began in 1998, and he’s just now coming to trial. The list of state and federal probes is as long as the bathroom line at White Sox Park during a playoff game. There’s the new DCFS investigation, of course. And then there are the twin probes concerning Blagojevich appointee Stu Levine at the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board and the TRS board. Levine was allegedly shaking down hospitals and financial contractors. Attorney General Lisa Madigan has an investigation, along with Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine, into Chicago Ald. Dick Mell’s allegations — since retracted — that the governor’s people were selling board and commission seats in exchange for campaign contributions. The attorney general is also involved in a hard-hitting probe of the Illinois Commerce Commission that’s resulted in the forced resignation of its Blagojevich-appointed chairman. She’s also investigating the Department of Central Management Services at the urging of Auditor General Bill Holland. There’s a federal investigation of the so-called power-washing scandal at the Illinois Department of Transportation, where a top Blagojevich administration hire allegedly funneled a contract to a relative’s company. DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett is conducting a “civil” investigation of the Illinois Tollway. And there’ a federal probe into the mysterious decision by CMS to drop the longtime state employee/retiree health-care company, Health Alliance, after allegedly changing the bidding rules midstream. My apologies if I’ve missed any.
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