Ex-Ill. gov pleads not guilty at arraignment

Rod Blagojevich tells reporters and spectators he is "innocent of every single accusation."

Blagojevich 88 (photo credit: )
Blagojevich 88
(photo credit: )
Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges Tuesday, making official his denial of political malfeasance that authorities say included a scheme to sell President Barack Obama's former US Senate seat. Blagojevich looked relaxed as he stood alongside his brother, who also pleaded not guilty in the scheme. The former governor did not make a statement before the plea but told reporters and spectators when he entered the courthouse that he was "innocent of every single accusation." "Now we can begin the process of getting the truth out and I can clear my name and vindicate myself," he said. Blagojevich, 52, is charged with trying to auction off the Senate seat, planning to squeeze money from companies seeking state business and plotting to use the financial muscle of the governor's office to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who had called for his impeachment. Defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky, a longtime Blagojevich friend, entered the plea on his client's behalf before US District Judge James B. Zagel. Zagel then asked Blagojevich if he was pleading not guilty to all counts. "That's correct," the impeached former chief executive responded. Other attorneys have been reluctant to file an appearance with the court on behalf of the governor because it could lock them into a case that could consume thousands of hours over the next two years without any guarantee they would be paid. Attorneys say Blagojevich is unable to afford the kind of elaborate defense that the blue chip Chicago law firm of Winston & Strawn provided to former Gov. George Ryan when the firm's chairman was former Gov. James R. Thompson, a longtime Ryan friend. Winston & Strawn defended Ryan for free. Ryan was convicted of racketeering and fraud and sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison. No big names among Chicago's criminal defense lawyers are offering free services to Blagojevich. Blagojevich does have money in his Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund. But prosecutors have put defense attorneys on notice they will ask Zagel to order the campaign money forfeited if Blagojevich is convicted. Attorneys could be ordered to return their fees if they were paid from the campaign fund. There has even been speculation that Blagojevich might have to turn to the federal defender's program if Zagel doesn't assure attorneys they can be paid through the campaign fund. The other defendants in the case - former chief fundraiser Christopher G. Kelly, former aide John Harris and Springfield millionaire William Cellini - are to be arraigned Thursday. Former aide Alonzo Monk is to be arraigned next week. Harris, a former Blagojevich chief of staff, is cooperating with the federal investigation. Monk, also a former chief of staff and campaign manager, is reported to be cooperating with the investigation as well.