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Originally published Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 7:45 PM

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Arrest of Ill. governor puts spotlight on his wife

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has some close company in his misery.

Associated Press Writer

CHICAGO —

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has some close company in his misery.

His arrest this week on corruption charges also shone a spotlight on Patti Blagojevich, his wife and a mother of two. The first lady may have been introduced to the public by profanity-laced tirades as outlined by federal prosecutors, but she already was being investigated for her real-estate dealings.

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday laid out their allegations of a brazen money grab by Blagojevich, saying he plotted to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. And in the 76-page criminal complaint against him, his 43-year-old wife emerged as a woman who schemed to cash in on her husband's job and punish those who got in her way.

She has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and she has not spoken publicly since her husband's arrest. Nor did she appear in court with him Tuesday, and she did not return a message left Wednesday with Blagojevich's administration.

However, according to the complaint, she was the voice in the background spewing an ugly suggestion to "just fire" some newspaper editors if the Tribune Co. hoped for state assistance to sell Wrigley Field, the storied home of the Chicago Cubs.

"Hold up that (expletive) Cubs (expletive)," she says as her husband is talking on the telephone. "(Expletive) them."

There she was in full support, according to the complaint, of her husband's suggestion that the price of the governor naming a replacement for Obama's Senate seat include a six-figure seat on a corporate board.

But in Illinois, those allegations mark the latest chapter in what may be considered a quintessential Chicago story. Patti Blagojevich is both a businesswoman whose lucrative real estate deals have raised questions about whether her position as first lady helped her make a lot of money and a key player in a family drama between two powerful politicians - her husband and her father, Richard Mell.

He was a powerful Chicago alderman who held a fundraiser in the late 1980s. Hoping to drum up business for his practice, Rod Blagojevich - then a young lawyer - attended and met Patti Mell. The two married in 1990.

Two years later, Mell used his political connections to get 200 soldiers to campaign for his son-in-law. Blagojevich ended up beating a powerful incumbent to win the state representative post, setting in motion a career that would take him to Congress and in 2002 to the governor's mansion.

Patti Blagojevich appeared to be a woman who knew her priorities and would not let working at her real estate brokerage firm interfere with raising the couple's two small daughters.

"Lady Patti Blagojevich knows exactly what comes first in her life," read the headline in a glowing 2005 Chicago Tribune profile.

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"What I put my focus on mostly is the girls," she told the paper. "Once you put your focus there, the rest falls into place."

But even before that story ran, Patti Blagojevich was in the middle of a public feud between her husband and her father that largely stemmed from the governor's shutting down of a landfill run by a distant relative of her mother.

Mell was incensed, saying his son-in-law was willing to "throw anyone under the bus."

He also told reporters that his daughter had "blinders on" when it came to the governor and that she would "wake up one day" to understand what her husband was really like.

There were whispers that Mell was not allowed to see the family as much as he liked, something Mell seemed to give credence to with a tearful announcement that he wanted to end his battle with Blagojevich.

"I've got a granddaughter who loves to fish, and she hasn't been up to Lake Geneva for two years like she used to come," he said.

Until Tuesday, the most recent news stories about Patti Blagojevich have been those that raised questions about her business dealings.

In 2005, for example, a published report said she received nearly $50,000 from a real estate deal three years earlier involving Antoin "Tony" Rezko. In June, Rezko was convicted of using clout with the Blagojevich administration to help launch a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme.

As for Patti Blagojevich's father, Richard Mell declined to comment for this story. On Tuesday he told reporters: "My main concern now is for my daughter and my grandchildren."

(This version CORRECTS that the complaint was 76 pages, not 78.))

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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