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Blago aide tells of track owner pressure

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rod Blagojevich's former top aide said Monday the ex-governor delayed signing legislation in order to pressure a racetrack owner to make a campaign contribution.

Alonzo "Lon" Monk's testimony on Monday was in relation to November 2008, when the Illinois legislature passed a law that would direct a portion of the state's casino money to the financially ailing Illinois horse racing industry. It was non-controversial legislation that continued an old law, but then governor Blagojevich was slow to sign it.

On Monday, Monk said Blagojevich wasn't going to sign the legislation until racetrack owner John Johnston made good on a promise for a $100,000 campaign contribution.

Monk said he asked Blagojevich to call John Johnston, whose racetracks would have received $9,000/day with the subsidy, himself. "It would put more pressure on John Johnston to make the donation," Monk testified. He said he wanted to secure the contribution before Blagojevich signed the legislation.

In another tape played by prosecution, Blagojevich's brother and codefendant, Robert Blagojevich, said "Johnny Johnston is good for it." Robert Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty in the case.

During Monk's testimony, prosecutors played over a dozen secret recordings of the ex-governor, Robert Blagojevich, and others dealing with the racetrack legislation. All were recorded in the months leading up to Blagojevich's arrest.

Blagojevich never says on any of the tapes that he won't sign the bill unless he gets his contribution first, but that's what prosecutors allege was going on and that's the theme of Monk's testimony. When asked if they were linked, Monk answered, "Yes."

Portions of two of the tapes heard in court were publicly played before the state senate voted Blagojevich out of office, including an exchange between the ex-governor and his brother from the fall of 08.

Robert Blagojevich: He's gonna give you...you know, he didn't get it, but he said, ya know, 'I'm good for it. I just have to decide what accounts to get it out of.' And, and Lon's going to talk to you about some sensitivities legislatively tonight when he see you with regard to timing of all of this.

Rod Blagojevich: Right. Before the end of the year, right?

Rob Blagojevich: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Prosecutors argue that the ex-governor was pushing for big campaign contributions before new end-of-the-year ethics legislation would outlaw them.

During that time, the ex-governor wanted a campaign contribution from the CEO of Children's Memorial Hospital after a promise that Children's would be getting more Medicaid money from the state. When it became clear the contribution wouldn't happen, Monk testified that Blagojevich was unhappy. Blagojevich said, "Screw those guys," Monk said.

During cross examination, the defense fired off questions to Monk. Sam Adam asked, "Did you hear the governor say, 'Give me 100 grand or I'm not going to sign the bill?'"

"No," said Monk.

"Did he ever say, 'I'm not going to sign the bill at all?'

"No, said Monk.

The defense argued the conversations are all a question of political timing- not attempted extortion. The cross examination will continue Tuesday.

Also on the tapes: a comment about Blagojevich's hair, which got a laugh out of some jurors and spectators at the former governor's corruption trial.

The comment was made by Monk, "She loves our hair, by the way...She loves your hair, she loves my hair -- because it's all real." He's referring to the wife of a potential campaign donor.

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to scheming to get a major payoff in return for the Senate seat that Barack Obama left after his November 2008 election as president. Blagojevich also has pleaded not guilty to plotting to launch a racketeering scheme within the governor's office. If convicted, the possible penalties could total $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, though many factors would be considered.

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rod blagojevich, local, paul meincke
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