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Cubs Tue Dec 09 2008

Say It Ain't So, Blago

blagocubs.jpgSo by now you've heard how Governor Gimmie, aka Rod Blagojevich tried to hold the Cubs hostage in his attempts to shakedown the Tribune Company, specifically to get them to fire several members of their editorial board in exchange for his not screwing with their attempts to sell the team and the ballpark.

That Blagojevich would attempt to put the squeeze on the Trib is (now) not surprising, given the newly-emerging scope of his pay-for-play ways and the allegations that he basically tried to sell the newly-vacated Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.

No, what's surprising is that he would hold his beloved Cubs hostage to do it.

Here was the self-profession Cubs fan No. 1, the guy who withstood the boos of an entire U.S. Cellular Field when he showed up to help celebrate the White Sox' 2005, World Series victory and was accused of flip-flopping by Cubs fans because he dared to show up there, the guy who donned a Cubs cap and stood front and center and professed his joy at their playoff rally only a few months ago and got booed for his efforts, who said he would do all he can to get the Cubs to play at Wrigley Field forever, who once asked "WWLD?" (What Would Lou - Pinella, of course - Do?"), who was ready to forsake important state work to get involved in the day-to-day operations of the team and consult with Jim Hendry on hot to improve the team ("Jim, have you ever thought about getting the players to pay YOU to be a part of the Cubs? Pay-to-play: it works for me. Think about it.")

It's been a rough enough year for Cubs fans without learning that the so-called No. 1 fan is willing to throw the team under the bus for his own gain. Rod, baby, where's the loyalty? Where's the love?

``Let me be clear: I am unabashedly a Cubs fan,'' Blagojevich said. ``I love the Cubs. When they play the Cardinals, I'm for the Cubs. When the Cubs play the White Sox, I'm for the Cubs.''

Yeah, he's for the Cubs. Well, unless they stand between him and some good press

(Photo from Exposay.com)

 
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John Ryskamp / December 9, 2008 2:16 PM

Why Obama’s Next

I. FROM THE BLAGOJEVICH INDICTMENT

35. As described more fully in the following paragraphs, Mercy Hospital, which sought permission from the Planning Board to build a hospital in Illinois, received that permission through Rezko’s exercise of his influence at the Planning Board after Rezko was promised that Mercy Hospital would make a substantial campaign contribution to ROD BLAGOJEVICH. Rezko later told a member of the Planning Board that Mercy Hospital received the permit because ROD BLAGOJEVICH wanted the organization to receive the permit.

36. Levine’s criminal activities included his abuse of his position on the Planning Board to enrich both himself and Friends of Blagojevich. The Planning Board was a commission of the State of Illinois, established by statute, whose members were appointed by the Governor of the State of Illinois. At the relevant time period, the Planning Board consisted of nine individuals. State law required an entity seeking to build a hospital, medical office building, or other medical facility in Illinois to obtain a permit, known as a “Certificate of Need” (“CON”), from the Planning Board prior to beginning construction.

37. Levine, as well as Planning Board members Thomas Beck and Imad Almanaseer, testified under oath at the Rezko Trial.9 Beck testified that he asked Rezko to reappoint him to the Planning Board and that Beck thereafter followed Rezko’s directions regarding which CON applications Rezko wanted approved. Beck testified that it was his job to communicate Rezko’s interest in particular CONs to other members of the Planning Board, including Almanaseer, who were loyal to Rezko. Beck testified that he understood that Rezko spoke for the Blagojevich administration when Rezko spoke to Beck about particular CONs. Almanaseer testified that Beck instructed him that Rezko wanted Almanaseer to vote a particular way and that Almanaseer should follow Levine’s lead in voting on CONs. Almanaseer testified that before certain Planning Board meetings, he received notecards from Beck indicating how to vote on certain CON applications. Beck testified he provided these notecards to Almanaseer and certain other members of the Planning Board to communicate Rezko’s directions about certain CON applications.

38. During his testimony, Levine described a plan to manipulate the Planning Board to enrich himself and Friends of Blagojevich. The plan centered on an entity commonly known as Mercy Hospital (“Mercy”) that was attempting to obtain a CON to build a new hospital in Illinois. Levine knew the contractor hired to help build the hospital. In approximately November 2003, on behalf of the contractor, Levine checked with Rezko to determine whether Rezko wanted Mercy to obtain its CON. Rezko informed Levine that Mercy was not going to receive its CON. According to Levine, he asked Rezko whether it would matter to Rezko if Mercy’s construction contractor paid a bribe to Rezko and Levine and, in addition, made a contribution to ROD BLAGOJEVICH. Levine testified that Rezko indicated that such an arrangement would change his view on the Mercy CON.

39. Levine’s testimony regarding Rezko’s actions to change the Planning Board decision concerning Mercy’s application for a CON based on contributions for ROD BLAGOJEVICH is confirmed by attorney Steven Loren. Loren testified at Rezko’s criminal
trial and, before that, in the grand jury.11 According to Loren, in approximately December 2003, Levine informed Loren that Rezko was against the Mercy CON. According to Loren, Levine relayed to Loren a conversation between Rezko and Levine during which Levine asked Rezko whether a political contribution to ROD BLAGOJEVICH would make a difference for Mercy’s CON, and Rezko responded to Levine that such a contribution might
make a difference.

40. Thereafter, and confirmed by the testimony of Levine, Beck, and Almanaseer, as well as recorded conversations, Rezko switched his directions to Beck and informed Beck that Mercy was to receive its CON. According to Almanaseer, although he previously had been told by Beck that Rezko did not want Mercy to receive its CON, he was later told that there had been a change and that Rezko now wanted Mercy to receive its CON.

41. Mercy received its CON as a result of a controversial and irregular vote at a public Planning Board meeting.12 The vote brought significant publicity to the Planning Board and ultimately led to the disbanding of the Planning Board. Almanaseer testified under oath in the grand jury that not long after the Planning Board vote on Mercy’s CON he saw Rezko at a fundraiser. According to Almanaseer, he was still embarrassed about what had occurred at the Planning Board vote on Mercy’s CON and Rezko’s role in the vote. Almanaseer testified that he asked Rezko why Rezko had switched the vote on the Mercy CON. According to Almanaseer, Rezko stated: “The Governor wanted it to pass.”

II. FROM EVELYN PRINGLE’S “CURTAIN TIME” ONLINE ARTICLES

Tony Rezko is a private citizen. Therefore, the evidence presented in the trial focused on his influence over officials in getting members appointed to the Boards. Prosecutors did not discuss how the legislation got passed that enabled the Planning Board to be set up in a way that allowed for the appointment of members to rig the votes to begin with.

That part of the scheme will likely be detailed in future indictments, probably starting with Blagojevich. Blagojevich signed the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Act with an effective date of June 27, 2003. However, before he could sign the act, a bill had to be passed by the Illinois House and Senate. As discussed fully in Curtain Time Part II, Obama was the inside guy in the senate who pushed through the legislation that resulted in the Act.

Obama was appointed chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The minute the bill was introduced, it was referred to his committee for review. The sponsors of the bill also served on this committee with Obama. Within a month, Chairman Obama sent word to the full senate that the legislation should be passed.

On May 31, 2003, Senate Bill 1332 passed and specified that the “Board shall be appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate." The legislation reduced the number of members from 15 to 9, paving the way for the appointment of a five-bloc majority to rig the votes.

The corrupt members appointed included three doctors who contributed to Obama. Michel Malek gave Obama $10,000 on June 30, 2003 and donated $25,000 to Blagojevich on July 25, 2003. Malek also gave Obama another $500 in September 2003.

Fortunee Massuda donated $25,000 to Blagojevich on July 25, 2003, and gave a total of $2,000 to Obama on different dates. After he was appointed, Dr Imad Almanaseer contributed a total of $3,000 to Obama. Almanaseer did not give money to Blagojevich.

When the first pay-to-play scheme was put in play, and the application for approval of a new hospital was submitted, the Department of Human Services, along with four other Illinois agencies, sent recommendations that the project should be approved even though experts said the hospital was not needed.

During the trial, Rezko’s attorney presented an email exchange to the jury that hinted at Obama's role in setting up the scheme. The exchange showed that Obama and seven other top Illinois politicians consulted on the legislation passed in 2003 and were involved in recommending the members for the board.

Matthew Pickering wrote the memo to Blagojevich’s general counsel, Susan Lichtenstein, on behalf of David Wilhelm, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who headed Blagojevich's 2002 campaign for governor.

Pickering said he and Wilhelm had “worked closely” over six months with state legislators. The memo recommended the appointees listed above and stated, “our attached recommendations reflect that involvement” with the political leaders.

The persons appointed to rig the votes, including those who contributed to Blagojevich and Obama, are cooperating in exchange for immunity or lighter prison sentences.

Feds shut down pay-to-play schemes

Only two pay-to-play schemes succeeded before the Feds swooped in and shut them all down. Blagojevich did not receive the $1.5 million from the Planning Board deal because the hospital was never built.

But Obama received $20,000 from the first kickback paid in the pension fund scheme and the straw donors used to funnel the $10,000 payments, Elie Maloof and Joseph Aramanda, also made $1,000 contributions to Obama's failed run for Congress in 2000.

In addition, Aramanda gave $500 to Obama's senate campaign on June 30, 2003. In the summer of 2005, Aramanda's son landed an intern position in Obama's Washington office.

Obama also received contributions for his senate campaign from the two persons appointed to rig the vote on the pension fund board. On June 30, 2003, Jack Carriglio contributed $1,000, and the other appointee, Anthony Abboud, donated $500 on June 30, 2003, $250 on March 5, 2004, and $1,000 on June 25, 2004.

The person chosen to funnel the kickback in a future scheme, Michael Winter, donated $3,000 to Obama on June 30, 2003.

All these people are also cooperating in exchange for immunity or lesser prison sentences but prosecutors pointed out during closing arguments that people who entered into agreements with the government are required to tell the truth or all deals are off.

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