Report: Blagojevich recorded in federal probe

December 5, 2008 4:47:49 PM PST
A powerful lobbyist and friend of Governor Rod Blagojevich is denying reports he wore a wire to record conversations with the governor.The Chicago Tribune reported Friday morning in a carefully worded story that one of the governor's closest friends and biggest fundraisers, mega-lobbyist John Wyma, is cooperating with the feds in their ongoing investigation of pay-to-play politics. And that cooperation, the Trib says, facilitated secret tape recordings of Blagojevich and others. Now Wyma's denying that he actually wore a wire. But if the feds are squeezing a member of the governor's inner circle like John Wyma and had enough to cooperate significantly, it's a major development that makes Blagojevich a bigger target than ever.

John Wyma was Blagojevich's chief of staff and close friend when Blagojevich was a congressman. And when Blagojevich was elected governor in 2002, Wyma became a lobbyist for companies that wanted state contracts and happily contributed thousands of dollars to Blagojevich's campaign fund.

But last fall, the feds subpoenaed the records of one Wyma client, Provena Health, in the ongoing investigation of alleged pay-to-play politics in and around the Blagojevich administration. And after Wyma helped another client win a $2 million contract for Illinois tollway concessions, Wyma hired the governor's wife, Patti, to handle a real estate transaction for the same client, which raised additional questions.

"There's a long tradition somehow of real estate deals being fishy in this town. It's a way to move vast amounts of money on the surface through legitimate transactions," said Jay Stewart, Better Government Association.

Friday morning's Tribune says that Wyma's cooperating with the federal investigation and that cooperation made it easier for the feds to secretly record conversations with the governor, which represents a major development in a case that's already led to 13 indictments.

"If the governor implicated himself on anything and it's recorded, that's not good. But we don't know," said Stewart.

Late Friday afternoon, Wyma's attorney Zach Fardon issued a statement saying that, "Mr. Wyma hasn't worn any wire or recorded any conversations. Nor is he aware of any such recordings. Any allegation or insinuation to the contrary is simply untrue."

The governor's office says that he learned about the alleged recordings like everyone else by reading the paper Friday morning.

Blagojevich hasn't been charged with anything. And he said again Friday through a spokesman that he hasn't done anything illegal or improper. But the feds have been trying to squeeze two other former members of the governor's inner circle, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly. And they're obviously putting a lot of heat on John Wyma, who may not have worn a wire but seems to be cooperating with the feds in some way.

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