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Everything You Want to Know About Blago's Indictment

Rod Blagojevich (Scott Olson/Getty Images)Yesterday was a bad day to be a Blagojevich.

Four months after Rod Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges, the ousted Illinois governor and his brother, Rob, were indicted by a federal grand jury in a wide-ranging scheme to "deprive the people of Illinois of honest government," prosecutors said.

In total, the ex-governor faces 16 felony counts (PDF), including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. Among the indictment's more surprising allegations: Blagojevich unsuccessfully attempted to extort campaign funds from Rahm Emanuel, then a congressman and now President Barack Obama's chief of staff.

Four other Blagojevich insiders, including two of his former chiefs of staff, also were indicted.

In a statement, Blagojevich maintained his innocence. "I'm saddened and hurt but I am not surprised by the indictment," he said.

For those of you who'd rather not read the 75-page indictment (PDF), or just have questions about the mess Blagojevich is in, we've made it easy on you. Here are answers to some of the top questions surrounding the case against Blagojevich.

Wasn't Blagojevich already indicted?

Actually, authorities had to settle for filing only a criminal complaint when they arrested him on Dec. 9. Back then, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said that because federal agents had to move quickly to prevent Blagojevich from going on a "public corruption crime spree," they didn't have time to secure an indictment. Blagojevich can't be tried on the criminal complaint, which was used only to initiate the case.

So what's the difference between the accusations in the complaint and the indictment?

Blagojevich originally was arrested on only two counts: conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. The complaint, supported by secret FBI recordings of Blagojevich, was highlighted by an allegation that he attempted to sell Obama's former Senate seat in exchange for personal benefits. Other allegations included that Blagojevich threatened to withhold about $100 million in public financing from the Tribune Company if the Chicago Tribune did not fire editorial writers who had called for his impeachment.

While those allegations are in the indictment, the government now is reaching back to 2002, before Blagojevich was even elected governor. Referring to Blagojevich's various schemes and partners as the "Blagojevich Enterprise," the indictment reads more like allegations against an organized crime family than the state's first family.

Among the new charges:

  • Blagojevich attempted to extort Emanuel, identified in the indictment as "Congressman A," by withholding a $2 million state grant to a public school in the then-congressman's district. Blagojevich was demanding that Emanuel's brother host a campaign fundraiser for him. The fundraiser was never held, and Blagojevich eventually released the grant.
  • Blagojevich allegedly gave now-convicted businessman Tony Rezko influence over state boards, hiring and contracts, in exchange for generating millions in campaign contributions. Rezko also allegedly steered $150,000 in real estate commissions to Blagojevich's wife Patti -- including $54,000 for projects she did little or no work on.
  • Blagojevich and Rezko also allegedly steered billions of dollars in Illinois pension bond business to a company whose lobbyist promised to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to Rezko, who then supposedly shared his winnings with Blagojevich.
  • Finally, Blagojevich allegedly lied to FBI agents in a 2005 interview when he told them that he didn't know, or want to know, who his donors were.

Who in their right mind tries to mess with Rahm Emanuel?

Beats me.

Aren't the accusations against Blagojevich just politics as usual?

Dave Lundy, a former lawyer and now acting executive director of the Better Government Association, explained to us that political wheeling and dealing becomes fraud when there's a quid pro quo.

While donating campaign contributions might imply that someone wants a favor from a politician, if Blagojevich explicitly demanded these funds in exchange for official actions -- that amounts to a crime.

"Rod took business as usual to a whole new level," Lundy said.

Do the Blagojevich brothers have to report immediately to the clink?

Nope. In fact, where do you think the former governor was when he learned the news? Disney World, of course. He took his family to the Magic Kingdom to get away from it all. Blagojevich remains free on bond, and no court date has been set. Since being tossed from office in January, Blago has been busy writing a tell-all book, hosting Chicago radio programs and shopping reality TV offers.

If convicted, what kind of time is Blago looking at?

The charges carry maximum combined sentences of more than 200 years. But even if he is convicted on every charge, which is far from a given, Chicago legal experts say that the judge will follow standard sentencing guidelines, which could reduce his time down to 16 years.

Either way, he's facing significant time behind bars, Richard Kling, a criminal defense attorney and professor at Chicago-Kent School of Law, told us.

One problem Blagojevich faces, Kling said, is that his judge, James Zagel, "is one of the strictest judges in the building."

How's Blagojevich going to afford his lawyers?

It's not going to be easy. A six-figure book deal helps, but he's been racking up legal bills for years and may not have access to his $2 million-plus campaign fund, Friends of Blagojevich.

Surprisingly, the grand jury didn't indict the fund, though prosecutors are still seeking to collect all of its assets, should he be convicted. That could deter his lawyers from accepting any cash from the fund.

The indictment also seeks forfeiture of $188,000 that Blagojevich made from the alleged racketeering activity. If he's convicted and can't fork over the cash, the government could take his Chicago home, the indictment said.

Will the co-defendants snitch in exchange for a lighter sentence?

Facing one wire fraud count, John Harris, Blago's former chief of staff, is cooperating with federal authorities, prosecutors said. Meanwhile, several other top Blagojevich aides are reportedly getting chatty, including Rezko. Of course, because cooperation would be in exchange for leniency, the snitches' statements should meet some skepticism.

Are the feds done bringing charges?

Not necessarily. Fitzgerald could still be targeting the real estate business of Blago's wife Patti. While Patti was extensively referred to in the indictment, she was not charged.

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