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Blagojevich was bookie, says federal informant

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The ABC7 I-Team has learned that an attorney who went undercover for the FBI in the late 1980's says he told federal authorities years ago about wrongdoing by Blagojevich.

His name is Robert Cooley.

Cooley was a criminal defense lawyer in Chicago in the late 1980's who became one of the most potent witnesses against Chicago corruption, testifying for federal prosecutors in cases that resulted in dozens of convictions.

Cooley says that before Rod Blagojevich got into politics he was a bookmaker on the North Side who regularly paid the Chicago mob to operate.

"When I was working with government wearing wire, I reported, I observed Rod, the present governor, who was running a gambling operation out in the western suburbs. He was paying street tax to the mob out there," said Robert Cooley, federal informant.

On a web-based interview show last week, Cooley said he reported to federal authorities nearly two decades ago that Rod Blagojevich had been operating an illegal sports gambling business.

Robert Cooley is a former Chicago police officer-turned mob lawyer-turned federal informant.

During Operation Gambat in the late 1980's and early 1990's, Cooley's undercover work and testimony put away 24 crooked politicians, judges, lawyers and cops.

Several years ago, when Mr. Blagojevich was running for re-election, Cooley provided the same information to the ABC7 I-Team. Because Cooley did not want to be identified at the time and the governor denied it, ABC7 did not report the story.

On Tuesday, Cooley spoke on the record.

He told ABC7 that Mr. Blagojevich regularly paid a so-called street tax to Robert "Bobby the Boxer" Abbinanti, a convicted outfit gambling collector. In the early 1980's, Abbinanti was working for convicted West Side mob boss Marco D'amico. Bookies pay street taxes to the crime syndicate in exchange for being allowed to operate such a racket.

"I predicted five years ago when he ran the first time that he was a hands on person who would be selling every position in the state of Illinois and that it exactly what happened," said Cooley.

Cooley, who secretly recorded conversations in a Counselor's Row restaurant near City Hall which brought down the first ward leadership, contends Illinois corruption is unstoppable.

"The biggest problem you have now and reason for what is happening is that the people in power have money and ability to silence the media so it will never be reported and as long as you have that going on, you will never stop it," Cooley.

A spokesman for Governor Blagojevich said on Tuesday evening that he cannot comment on Cooley, the bookmaking allegation or the mob payoffs.

He referred us to the governor's criminal defense lawyer Ed Genson. Mr. Genson says he is too busy right now to talk.

A spokesman for the United States attorney in Chicago said that his office will have no comment.

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