Witness charts money flow in Blagojevich case
Follow the money.
Associated Press Writers
Follow the money.
That's what jurors are being asked to do at the corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich, with more government witnesses expected to take the stand Thursday who prosecutors believe will link the former Illinois governor to shady money deals during his tenure.
One-time political insider Joseph Cari, who has pleaded guilty in an attempted extortion case and is awaiting sentencing, is expected to resume his testimony.
In complex but potentially crucial testimony on Wednesday, prosecution witnesses described a mechanism of multiple transfers and deposits that allegedly involved Blagojevich's inner circle.
A colorful chart - complete with arrows, dates and cash figures - was superimposed on a courtroom screen as prosecutors continued to lay the groundwork for arguments that could drag on for several months.
The evidence amounted to lots of dots, but prosecutors stopped short Wednesday of connecting them directly to Blagojevich. His name did not appear on the graphic display, though former fundraisers Christopher Kelly and Tony Rezko did.
Some jurors seemed to strain to follow the testimony, some yawning, their hands pressed against their cheeks, with even some defense attorneys appearing to tire and shut their eyes for several minutes.
On Wednesday, Cari described a meeting on a private jet where then-Gov. Blagojevich asked about having Cari work as a fundraiser. Blagojevich also expressed interest in running for higher office, Cari testified.
"He said he had aspirations to run for president someday," Cari said. Blagojevich also told him that governors were in a better position to raise campaign cash because that can solicit money from businesses with state contracts, Cari added.
Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to trying to get a payoff such as a high-paying job or a big campaign contribution in return for the appointment to the U.S. Senate seat Barack Obama gave up after his election as president. He has also pleaded not guilty to plotting to use the powers of the governor's office to launch a racketeering scheme.
Internal Revenue Service investigator Shari Schindler testified that she traced money from a lobbyist who made a huge commission from the 2003 sale of $10 billion in state bonds through another businessman to Blagojevich's two key fundraisers and advisers.
Prosecutors focused on $600,000 that businessman Joseph Aramanda, a longtime friend of Rezko, received from prominent Springfield lobbyist Robert Kjellander.
Kjellander received an $809,000 commission when Blagojevich and members of his inner circle picked the company he represented, Bear Stearns, as lead underwriter in the bond sale. Schindler said that in October 2003, about three months after the sale, Kjellander transferred $600,000 to Aramanda.
Prosecutors say the transfer was one element in a kickback scheme. Kjellander hasn't been accused of wrongdoing.
Aramanda testified that the money was a loan arranged by Rezko to help prop up his ailing pizza restaurants. But he acknowledged that on Rezko's orders he immediately sent most of the money to a group of Rezko associates.
Schindler testified that two of those associates then sent large amounts to companies operated by Rezko and some money then flowed to Kelly. She said no money was traced directly to Blagojevich but that his wife, Patti, got the first of several $12,000 checks from Rezko's real estate business soon after Armanda got his money.
Rezko is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of launching a $7 million kickback scheme.
If convicted, Blagojevich could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, although he is certain to get much less under federal guidelines.
The former governor's brother, businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, of Nashville, Tenn., has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell the Senate seat and scheming to squeeze a racetrack owner for a $100,000 campaign contribution.
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