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Blagojevich indicted on federal corruption charges

CHICAGO - Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich was indicted Thursday on charges of trying to auction off President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat along with new corruption allegations that he tried to extort a congressman.

A sweeping 19-count federal indictment alleges that Blagojevich discussed with aides thepossibility of getting a Cabinet post in the new president's administration, substantial fundraisingassistance or a high-paying job in exchange for the Senate seat.

Obama's deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the White House would not comment. Theindictment does not allege any wrongdoing by Obama or his associates.

Prosecutors also accused Blagojevich and members of his inner circle of scheming to line theirpockets with millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains, squeezing contractors, hospital owners andothers seeking state business for kickbacks they planned to split after the governor left office.

"I'm saddened and hurt but I am not surprised by the indictment. I am innocent," Blagojevich saidin a statement. "I now will fight in the courts to clear my name. I would ask the good people ofIllinois to wait for the trial and afford me the presumption of innocence that they would give to alltheir friends and neighbors." His brother, two former aides, a former fundraiser and a lobbyist werealso indicted. Blagojevich's wife, Patti, was not indicted.

According to the indictment, the corruption stretches back to when Blagojevich became governor in2003. He and three coconspirators agreed then to use his position for financial gain and split theproceeds after he left office, the indictment said.

The indictment alleges that Blagojevich:

--Told an aide he wanted to stall a $2 million state grantto a school supported by a congressman until the lawmaker's brother held a fundraiser for thegovernor. The congressman's identity wasn't released.

--Was involved in a corrupt scheme to get a massive kickback in exchange for the refinancing ofbillions of dollars in state pension funds.

--Told an aide he didn't want executives with two financial institutions getting further statebusiness after he concluded they were not helping his wife get a high-paying job. --Withheld state aid sought by the Tribune Co. unless the company fired unfriendly editorialwriters at the Chicago Tribune.

Also, convicted fixer Tony Rezko paid Patti Blagojevich a $14,396 real estate commission "eventhough she had done no work" to earn it and later hired her at a salary of $12,000 a month plusanother $40,000 fee, the indictment said.

Others charged were former chief of staff Alonzo Monk; another former chief of staff, John Harris;brother Robert Blagojevich; onetime chief fundraiser Christopher G. Kelly; and Springfieldlobbyist-millionaire William F. Cellini.

Prosecutors said Harris has agreed to cooperate.

Blagojevich faces 16 counts of wire fraud, racketeering and extortion conspiracy, attemptedextortion and making false statements. Most of those charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 yearsin prison and a $250,000 fine.

Blagojevich, 52, was arrested Dec. 9 on a criminal complaint and U.S. Attorney Patrick J.Fitzgerald had faced a Tuesday deadline to supplant it with an indictment handed up by a federalgrand jury.

The Democrat's arrest led to his political downfall: The Illinois House impeached him Jan. 9. TheSenate convicted him and removed him from office Jan. 29.

Blagojevich's administration has been under federal investigation for years and Kelly and Rezkoalready have been convicted of federal crimes and are awaiting sentencing.

Thursday's indictment said that in 2003, Blagojevich, Monk, Kelly and Rezko agreed to directbig-money state business involved in refinancing billions of dollars in pension bonds as part of a dealwith a lobbyist who promised a massive kickback in return. The lobbyist wasn't identified.

Rezko raised more than $1 million in campaign contributions for Blagojevich and also was a majorObama fundraiser.

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