UPDATE: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday afternoon before U.S. district court judge Nan Nolan. The Chicago Tribune reports that Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, John Wyma, now an influential state lobbyist, cooperated with the government’s investigation. Wyma has retained former federal prosecutor and current Latham & Watkins litigation partner Zachary Fardon as counsel.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested in their homes by FBI agents on corruption charges Tuesday morning.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the charges relate to benefits Blagojevich allegedly sought for himself in a new Obama administration in return for selecting the president-elect’s successor to the U.S. Senate.
The Tribune reports that Blagojevich wanted to be appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services in an Obama administration or to be given a lucrative job with a union in return to appointing a union-preferred candidate to Obama’s vacant senate seat.
“I want to make money,” The Associated Press quotes the 51-year-old Democratic governor as saying in a 76-page FBI affidavit, which included excerpts of court-ordered wiretaps on Blagojevich.
“There are pretty extensive hoops that a prosecutor has to go through to get a wiretap,” says former federal prosecutor Bradley Simon, a defense lawyer with New York’s Simon & Partners who is not involved in the case. “You have to present detailed affidavits and supporting documents to a judge every 30 days to show continuing evidence of criminality. It’s not easy.”
Blagojevich is being charged with bribery and mail and wire fraud. Simon says that the federal mail fraud statute was amended several years ago to specifically state that it applies to misuse of office by public officials. “These statutes are very broad,” Simon adds. “But it seems like [prosecutors] have an arsenal of evidence to support these charges based on the wiretaps.”
The full details of the circumstances surrounding Blagojevich’s arrest can be found in this FBI statement released Tuesday morning.
“The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering,” says U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald in a statement announcing Blagojevich’s arrest. “They allege that Blagojevich put a ‘for sale’ sign on the naming of a [U.S.] Senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism.”
Fitzgerald’s last allegation relates to charges that Blagojevich sought to have members of the Chicago Tribune‘s editorial board that were critical of him to be fired in return for state assistance to the newspaper’s embattled owner, the Tribune Company, which filed for Chapter 11 protection on Monday.
While there’s no word yet on whether Blagojevich has retained counsel, Winston & Strawn chairman Dan Webb would seem to be a likely candidate.
One of the country’s most prominent litigators, Webb has carved out a niche for himself in recent years defending politicians in legal trouble. He represented Blagojevich’s predecessor as Illinois governor, George Ryan, who is currently serving a six-year prison sentence after being convicted of racketeering and fraud charges in 2006. (Chicago U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald prosecuted the case against Ryan.)
Earlier this year, Webb represented former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who resigned in September after pleading guilty to two felony obstruction of justice charges.
We called Webb this morning but he was in a meeting and has not yet responded to a request for comment. (Apparently we weren’t the only ones that had him on speed dial as his secretary asked us if “this was about the governor.”)
But Webb isn’t the only Winston & Strawn partner that Blagojevich might turn to. The National Law Journal reported in May that partner Bradley Lerman had been retained by the governor after Blagojevich was revealed to be “Official A” in court documents filed by prosecutors in a political corruption case against Democratic fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko.
Lerman is also no stranger to political prosecutions, having assisted Webb during Ryan’s 2006 trial and prosecuted former Arkansas Gov. James Guy Tucker Jr., as part of the Whitewater investigation. (Lerman was out of his office and unavailable for immediate comment.)
Some, like Simon, are simply shocked that Chicago is being wracked by yet another corruption scandal.
“It’s just incredible to me that [Blagojevich allegedly] was using this senate vacancy as a means of raising money, especially after what happened to his predecessor,” Simon says. “From the information the government has released about the case so far, it appears [Blagojevich] spent most of his time trying to figure out how he could personally benefit from his office.”
The prosecutors for the government on the case against Blagojevich are assistant U.S. attorneys Reid Schar, Carrie Hamilton, and Christopher Niewoehner in Chicago. All three handled the government’s case against Rezko, who was convicted in June on fraud and money-laundering charges after a nine-week trial.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.