Federal prosecutors have worked for weeks to meet a deadline for producing an indictment accusing ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich of committing an extraordinary "white-collar crime spree" in the heart of Illinois government. Their handiwork could be seen as early as Thursday.
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald has until Tuesday to get an indictment that would replace a complaint charging the former governor with plotting to trade or sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat and a host of other crimes.
Thursday is believed to be the last day the grand jury meets before the deadline, although the government never announces the time and place of grand jury meetings.
Meanwhile Blagojevich apparently was in Walt Disney World Thursday with his family. A hotel operator at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. connected a phone call to a room booked under Blagojevich. It went straight to voicemail.
Fitzgerald could ask Chief Judge James F. Holderman of U.S. District Court for another deadline extension. But all signs point to an imminent indictment against the 52-year-old impeached governor, who denies any wrongdoing.
"We're just hours away from a massive pay-to-play indictment against Gov. Blagojevich and possibly others," former federal prosecutor Patrick M. Collins said Tuesday while unveiling recommendations from a state reform commission launched in response to the scandal.
Collins, who sent Gov. George Ryan to prison for racketeering, is chairman of the commission, which wants legislators to impose sweeping changes.
Besides the Senate seat allegations, an affidavit accompanying the December complaint accuses Blagojevich of trying to use his political power to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers calling for his impeachment.
The Democrat's Dec. 9 arrest meant curtains for his political career: The Illinois House impeached him Jan. 9. The Senate convicted him and removed him from office Jan. 29.
Rather than brood, though, he took off on a surprise tour of national television talk shows to proclaim his innocence.
Now the former governor is writing a book.
Blagojevich was first elected governor in 2002, promising "reform and renewal" with Ryan headed for federal prison.
But questions soon arose over his two top fundraisers, real estate developer Tony Rezko and roofing contractor Christopher G. Kelly. A wide-ranging federal investigation began, covering everything from Blagojevich's hiring practices to real estate commissions Rezko paid to the governor's wife.
The scandal haunted Blagojevich's tenure as governor.
Kelly pleaded guilty to a tax charge. Rezko was convicted of using clout with the Blagojevich administration to gain control of two state boards and using that power in a scheme to squeeze companies seeking state business for $7 million in kickbacks.
The Rezko trial handed Blagojevich a nasty black eye.
On the stand, one campaign contributor said Blagojevich openly dangled big-money contracts if he would raise campaign funds. Another witness testified Blagojevich spoke of getting him a state job while his check for $25,000 to the governor's campaign fund lay on the table.
To each new disclosure, Blagojevich aides insisted he was innocent and didn't "do business that way."
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