Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Operation Board Games gets another witness

By Bethany Jaeger
Alonzo “Lon” Monk is cooperating in the ongoing investigation into extensive political corruption in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office and political campaign. Monk pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to one count of wire fraud.

That’s just one of 19 counts leveled on participants in “Blagojevich Enterprise," which the feds allege primarily existed to “exercise and preserve power over Illinois government for the financial and political benefit of Blagojevich,” as well as his family members and friends. According to Monk’s plea, he received about seven to nine payments of $10,000 from Tony Rezko as “a gift, not a loan.” Monk joins list of witnesses in the governor’s June 2010 trial, so far including:
  • John Harris, another former chief of staff who in July pleaded guilty to tax fraud.
  • Rezko, who pleaded guilty in June 2008 and already is serving a prison sentence.
  • **The late Christopher Kelly, who would have been a key witness, apparently committed suicide days after pleading guilty to other charges in September.
Monk’s plea agreement is here.

Monk, of Park Ridge, was Blagojevich’s former law school roommate, his general counsel when in Congress, his first chief of staff when he became governor in 2003, his campaign manager in his 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial bids and, most recently, a lobbyist. One of Monk's clients included a horse racetrack owner, reportedly John Johnston.

Monk’s guilty plea pertains to a scheme in November to December 2008 to pressure Johnston to raise $100,000 for Blagojevich’s political campaign (see Count 11 of the April indictment).

Part of the scheme allegedly was caught on secret FBI recordings. One brief conversation, according to the federal transcripts, was between Monk and Johnston about supporting Blagojevich’s campaign in return for the governor’s signature on a bill to subsidize the horse racing industry. The recording was played during Blagojevich’s impeachment trial in the Senate last January.

Monk, who was a lobbyist at the time of the recordings, was heard in another cell phone conversation with Blagojevich, telling the governor to call Johnston directly. “It’s better if you do it just from a pressure point of view,” Monk was heard saying to Blagojevich.

The scheme allegedly was under time constraints, as Blagojevich wanted the money before the end of the year, when a new state law — the so-called pay-to-play ban — would ban him from collecting political donations from contractors who do significant amounts of business with the state.

Monk’s plea also confirms conversations and actions taken to enrich themselves and Blagojevich’s campaign fund. For instance, before Blagojevich became governor in 2002, the plea says, Monk planned with Blagojevich, Rezko and Kelly to use the governor’s office and Monk’s chief of staff office for financial gain, dividing the proceeds among them. One scheme allegedly included a 2003 pension deal that refinanced $10 billion in pension obligation bonds, issuing all $10 billion at once so a particular investment firm would benefit and donate more money to the governor’s campaign. It also allegedly included pressuring engineering firms to contribute to Blagojevich’s campaign in return for state capital projects and pressuring Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago for a contribution in exchange for a state grant, according to the plea.

The feds also say that once convicted felon Stuart Levine had been confronted by the FBI in 2004 for rigging various state boards, the focus shifted to making money through Rezko’s real estate development, involving Blagojevich’s wife, Patricia, in marketing efforts.

One count of wire fraud carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a fine of $250,000, although Monk’s plea agreement recommends a sentence between two and four years.

Blagojevich’s trial is scheduled to start June 2, 2010.

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