- Lester Munson, Legal Analyst
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CHICAGO -- The governor of Illinois, accused Tuesday of trying to sell the appointment of President-elect Barack Obama's seat in the U.S. Senate, is also charged with crimes resulting from his role in the sale of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field.
In a complaint issued shortly after FBI agents arrested Gov. Rob Blagojevich in a pre-dawn raid on his home on Chicago's North Side on Tuesday, federal prosecutors assert that Blagojevich tried to use the Cubs sale as leverage in obtaining favorable treatment in the editorial pages of the Chicago Tribune.
According to the federal complaint, Blagojevich was trying to use the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA), a state agency that can provide financing for real estate deals, and grants of other state funds to persuade Tribune Company, the owner of the Cubs, to end its editorial campaign for the governor's impeachment. The scheme remained in operation as recently as Dec. 5.
In a series of telephone conversations tapped by the FBI, Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, repeatedly discussed their efforts to obtain the dismissal of John McCormick, the deputy director of the Tribune editorial page, and other editorial writers.
If the Cubs wanted IFA financing for the sale of Wrigley Field or grants for remodeling of the ballpark, the Tribune must, Blagojevich said on the phone, "fire all those [expletive] people, get 'em the [expletive] out of there, and get us some editorial support."
In other recorded conversations, Blagojevich is heard describing McCormick (no relation to legendary Tribune publisher Robert McCormick) as "the most biased and unfair."
Blagojevich and Harris expressed their hopes in a series of conversations in November and early this month that McCormick would be included in a series of staff cuts the Tribune was preparing to announce. When the 11 staff cuts were announced and McCormick remained on the Tribune staff, the governor and his chief of staff did not give up.
"There's still more [staff cuts] coming?" Blagojevich asked Harris.
"Yeah, they got a lot of cuts to make," Harris replied.
The charges relating to the Cubs sale are part of a 76-page series of charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and attempted bribery against Blagojevich and Harris. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, a veteran of dozens of major federal prosecutions, described the corruption charges as "staggering." In discussing the various individuals whom Blagojevich might appoint to serve out Obama's Senate term, Blagojevich noted in a recorded phone call that one candidate "was not willing to give me anything but appreciation. [Expletive] him."
Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who reports on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
4hAdam Lewis, Special to ESPN.com