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Agent: Blago denied tying jobs to campaign cash

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rod Blagojevich told an FBI agent in 2005 that he maintained a "firewall" between campaign fundraising and government, an agent testified Tuesday at the former governor's corruption trial.

According to testimony by Patrick Murphy, a supervisory special agent with the FBI, Blagojevich told agents that he never gave out state jobs and contracts as a reward for campaign contributions.

Murphy said he was present during interviews in March 2005 with Blagojevich. One such interview took place on March 16, 2005, at Winston and Strawn, a Chicago law firm, and lasted three hours.

Democratic fundraiser Joseph Cari was not present during those interviews. Cari was interviewed separately.

During the interviews Murphy testified the former governor claimed he liked to keep a "million miles away" from the issuance of state contracts and "tries very hard to maintain a firewall between politics and government work." Murphy said Blagojevich "specifically does not track who contributes and doesn't want to know who or how much they're giving."

Testimony from Kelly Glynn suggests Blagojevich's claims from that day five years ago were completely untrue. Glynn, finance director for the fundraising arm Friends of Blagojevich from 2002 to 2004, said Blagojevich was fully hands on with fundraising and that he had access to fundraising spread sheets, overall goals and individual contributions.

At major fundraisers, Glynn testified Blagojevich would often yell out when he'd see a big contributor, and demand to know immediately what he or she had given. If it was short of goal, Glynn said Blagojevich would call them "A BS-er," a term he used on a number of occasions. He was, she said, particularly engaged with deep pocket contributors like six-figure giver Blair Hull. On one of the government's taped calls from the fall of 2008, Blagojevich called Hull an idiot.

Glynn's testimony was backed up later Tuesday afternoon by one time deputy finance director Danielle Stilz who said of Blagojevich, "he had intimate knowledge of the numbers, even more than I did."

Cari's testimony also contradicted what the governor told the jury Tuesday. He said Blagojevich once told him state contracts were available to those who helped with fundraising. Cari testified the governor said he could use "goodies" such as contracts, law firm work and work from investment groups to raise money for his campaign.

The jury also heard former state official Ali Ata testify that he got his job after donating $50,000 to Blagojevich's campaign fund.

Earlier in the day, a government witness said convicted political fixer Tony Rezko's real estate development company was in debt with no way to repay as early as 2003.

Former bank executive Michael Winter testified that when he was a consultant to Rezko's company in 2003 it had a number of projects that looked as if they would not succeed.

As a prosecution witness, Winter testified last week that Rezko told him he was paying Blagojevich's wife, Patti, a $12,000-a-month consulting fee, even though she appeared to do no work for the company.

After Winter finished his testimony Tuesday, real estate agent Marianne Piazzi and FBI agent Jane Ferguson gave testimony.

On the stand briefly, Piazzi testified that she wasn't aware that Patti did any work on the sale of a property at 1069 W. Chestnut for which Blagojevich received $14,000.

Ferguson said that Patti's real estate agency River Realty received money from Rezko for the sale of property for which she did no work.

Also on Tuesday, Judge James Zagel dismissed a 40-year-old white female juror due to the illness of a parent.The defense had objected to the juror during jury selection but Judge Zagel kept her.

Neither the prosecution nor the defense commented on the matter in court.

Judge Zagel is expected to revisit his decision to keep the names of the jurors at Blagojevich's trial anonymous.

An appellate court panel sided with five news organizations that want the names made public.

The panel did not overturn Judge Zagel's decision, but ruled that he had acted too hastily and should hear the media's arguments.

As he headed to his corruption trial Tuesday, Blagojevich referred to revelations last week that he and his wife shelled out more than $400,000 on high-end suits, ties, furs and other clothes.

Smiling and flipping the lapels of his shimmering gray suit and matching tie, he asked spectators waiting to get into the courtroom, "How's the suit?"

Someone in the crowd responded, "Looks good." Blagojevich laughed and continued into the courtroom.

Rod Blagojevich is charged with trying to parlay his powers as governor to appoint someone to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for personal benefit.

Robert Blagojevich is accused of trying to help him.

Both have pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys say both brothers intend to take the witness stand.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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