(Chicago, IL) — June 10, 2010. A man who was once one of Rod Blagojevich’s closest friends and a top aide said the former Illinois governor knew what he was doing was “wrong” when he met with now-convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko.
Alonzo ”Lon” Monk, who served as Blagojevich’s chief of staff when he took office in 2003, on Wednesday provided the federal courtroom with allegedly firsthand accounts of the corruption that took place in the Blagojevich administration.
“We were concerned because it was in all likelihood was wrong and breaking the law,” he said of his and Blagojevich’s secret meetings with Rezko and former fundraiser Chris Kelly.
Monk said the four agreed to use the office of the governor to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars, which Rezko would distribute in equal parts to each man at the end of Blagojevich’s tenure “when there would be less scrutiny.”
Monk said the conspiracy began even before Blagojevich took office, describing a parking garage encounter with Kelly in the summer of 2002.
“(Kelly) said ‘the GOP had been in power so long that they could benefit personally’ from state action and because we were close to Rod we could too,” he said.
Kelly committed suicide in September 2009, just before he was to begin an eight-year federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to fraud and an $8.5 million kickback scheme.
Monk described a governor’s office dominated by corruption. Blagojevich relied heavily on the recommendations of Rezko and Kelly to appoint department directors and state board members. But Monk emphasized that he and his boss knew why each man was considered for their post: “it wasn’t about merit, it was about enhanced fundraising.”
The former chief of staff recalled one occasion in particular where the governor looked to increase fundraising through state action. In late 2003, then-congressman Rahm Emanuel — who now serves as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff — met with Blagojevich to lobby state funds from him for Chicago Academy, a school in his district.
But Blagojevich allegedly had more than the students and the congressman on his mind.
“The governor’s office could make it happen, but Rod told me to hold out to see if he’d get a fundraiser with Rahm’s brother (talent manager Ari Emanuel) in Los Angeles,” Monk said.
He testified that he understood his orders to be “no state action, no money.” The $2 million grant was eventually passed through, though no fundraiser was ever held.
Monk did not look comfortable on the stand, pursing his lips and furrowing his brow before answering questions in monotone. He avoided eye contact with the jury and Blagojevich, whose wife Patti could be seen shaking her head, as Monk shared stories of vacationing with the Blagojevichs and sharing meals at their home. The former governor, for his part, wore what appeared to be a ”what-can-you-do” smile as his law school roommate testified.
The prosecution painted a picture of secret meetings and hush-hush conspirators more akin to a gangster movie than a typical white-collar crime.
“There was a long conference table with a black easel at the end of it,” Monk said, as he described one such meeting at Rezko’s office building.
On that easel was a pad listing “eight or nine” schemes to use the office of governor to make money, including plans to create an insurance company to secure state contracts. Next to each plan was a dollar figure of the expected take — the lowest of which was $100,000.
Monk corroborated the government’s argument that Blagojevich was a willing participant in the backroom dealings. Lead defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. said in his opening statement to the jury that Monk and Rezko were the real masterminds behind the corruption that took place during Blagojevich’s tenure. Such deals, he said, happened behind his back.
But Monk testified that not only was Blagojevich inside the room when conspiracy took place, he was “attentive and interested,” as Rezko led the corruption colloquiums. The same could be said of the jury on Wednesday, who were wide-eyed throughout most of the day.
Monk was one of two star witnesses to take the stand on Wednesday. Lead FBI Agent Dan Cain opened the proceedings in the morning, and testified on everything from wiretaps to campaign fundraising.
Cain talked at length about Blagojevich’s fundraising largesse, as he outspent opponents by millions in both the 2002 and 2006 elections. The prosecution is trying to link that apparent success with convicted former Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board member Stuart Levine, who was sentenced to life in prison for multiple counts of corruption, and Rezko.
The prosecution went to great lengths to not only tie Blagojevich to convicted former associates, but to justify the use of wiretaps to secure evidence.
Lead prosecutor Reid Schar and Cain discussed in detail the precautions that are used in order to prevent investigations from delving too far into private lives.
The government gathered much of its evidence by wiretapping the cell phone and landlines of the former governor, as well as his brother Rob’s cell phone and the phone at the office of the Friends of Blagojevich fundraising headquarters.
Cain explained the process of minimization, in which agents stop recording during personal phone calls.
But defense attorney Aaron Goldstein turned this argument against Cain, asking him pointed questions about why so many conversations were left out of the investigation.
The defense is arguing that such gaps could have vindicated Blagojevich. Defense lawyers attempted to have all of the investigation’s 5,000 plus conversations played for the court. That motion was denied.
Wiretaps have been an issue of great concern for the trial, as federal Judge James Zagel asked some jurors about their feelings about the recording process.
No juror who expressed skepticism of wiretaps during questioning made it to the final jury, although the question was only asked of several individuals.
Monk pled guilty to conspiracy to solicit a bribe in April. In exchange for his testimony, he will serve two years in prison, rather than the five he initially faced.
Blagojevich, on the other hand, is facing up to 415 years in prison if convicted of the more than 20 crimes he is alleged to have committed, including extortion and racketeering.
Monk’s testimony will continue at 9:30 Thursday morning. Adam said he does not expect to cross examine Monk until Monday morning.
–Bill McMorris, Illinois Statehouse News