Blago pleads not guilty at arraignment

News crews swarm former governor
April 14, 2009 9:17:03 PM PDT
Former Governor Rod Blagojevich pleaded not guilty to federal racketeering and fraud charges.Blagojevich appeared in court along with his brother Robert who also entered a 'not guilty' plea.

VIDEO: Blago pleads not guilty at arraignment
RAW VIDEO: Blago swarmed by media after arraignment

Blagojevich arrived for the arraignment around 10:55 a.m. in a black SUV. He spoke to someone in a cab and then smiled for the cameras. He eventually stopped in the lobby and addressed the crowd of reporter and news crews to say a few words about the his faith in the criminal justice system in Illinois. He said he felt he could get a fair trial.

"I want to say this to the people of Illinois. I have not let them down, I never stopped working hard for them, fighting for them, I haven't let them down and this court proceeding is going to give me a chance to show them that that's in fact the case," said Rod Blagojevich on the curb outside the Dirksen Federal Building, caught in a hive of reporters and cameras.

Blagojevich's brother Robert, a Nashville real estate man, brushed past reporters on Tuesday morning en route to the federal courtroom. Last summer, Rob took over as the head of the Friends of Blagojevich fund, currently holding $2 million and the focus of federal scrutiny. That fund is now frozen.

The Blagojevich brothers appeared before the judge on the 25th floor of the Dirksen Federal Building. Both wore dark suits and stood with their hands clasped in front of them as they entered pleas of not guilty.

Their attorneys are working out bond details - a $4,500 signature bond for Rob Blagojevich. There was some discussion of raising the bond on behalf of the former governor so that he might be able to travel.

During the hearing, the judge asked the former governor a series of standard questions. U.S. District Judge James Zagel asked his age. The former governor said 52. Judge Zagel asked about his highest grade of education. With that, the former governor stumbled momentarily and then said, "I graduated from law school." He was asked whether or not he had been hospitalized for any mental health problems; the former governor said, 'No, sir.'

Rob Blagojevich was asked the same questions. His age- 53. His education- master's degree.

Attorney Sheldon Sorosky, who has been representing the former governor since his arrest in December 2008, was the only lawyer present at the court appearance.

Sorosky also addressed freeing up money from the Friends of Blagojevich Campaign Fund to pay for additional legal representation for the former governor. Judge Zagel is considering that.

After the ten minute hearing, the former governor's brother and his lawyer spoke for the first time.

"I'm prepared to cope to the charges and work through them," said Rob Blagojevich.

After the hearing, the ex-governor talked again about the charges which essentially accuse him of running state government as a criminal enterprise.

"I'm innocent of every allegation. I look forward to letting the truth win out and being vindicated in the process," said Rod Blagojevich.

Three others charged in the case -- Springfield power broker William Cellini, former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris and top Blagojevich fundraiser Christopher Kelly -- are set to be arraigned Thursday.

Harris is cooperating with federal authorities, as is another former chief of staff, Lon Monk, who is expected to be arraigned April 24.

The Blagojevich brothers were charged in a 19-count indictment on April 2. The former governor was impeached and voted out of office in January weeks after his arrest for involvement in a corruption spree in which Blagojevich allegedly used the governor's power over appointments, state contracts and legislation to squeeze kickbacks and campaign contributions from businesses and public officials.

Blago defense team down to single lawyer

Two high-profile criminal defense attorneys have dropped Rod Blagojevich as a client. The man now heading the defense says the case against the former governor cannot be handled by just one person.

VIDEO: Watch ABC7 reporter Paul Meincke's story

Rod Blagojevich will have a legal team, but who's on it, how and how much they get paid are open questions. Even if the former governor were able to use all the money in his political campaign fund, which is what his lead lawyer wishes, it will not likely be enough for a defense that will require a long, complex effort.

Rod Blagojevich's appearance before the judge Tuesday lasted 10 minutes. His departure from the Dirksen Federal Building lasted nearly as long. The ousted governor waded into the middle of dozens of reporters and photographers to profess his innocence.

"I'm glad this process has finally begun. It's the end of the beginning in one respect, but it's the beginning of another aspect , and that is the beginning of my being able to prove my innocence and clear my name," Blagojevich said.

With everyone angling for position, Rod Blagojevich's departure became a rugby scrum that spilled into the street -- save for a breather when a young man squeezed into the middle and asked that his picture be taken alongside the ex-governor, who happily obliged.

This is the beginning of what will be for Rod Blagojevich a long and expensive journey in court.

His lead -- and so far only -- attorney of record, Sheldon Sorosky, told the judge that it's not humanly possible for one lawyer to defend the former governor -- no matter who the lawyer is -- and the defense team needs to be able to access at least some of the estimated $2 million in the Blagojevich campaign fund.

If the defense can't free up that cash, " That will be an interesting problem,," said Sorosky.

There's been no decision yet on whether and how much Blagojevich can draw from his campaign kitty to pay for his defense.

A big part of the case against Blagojevich is wiretap evidence, and sorting through that mountain will take time.

"Whenever there's a wiretap...you've got to go through all the calls to see if there's the elements of the defense there," said Patrick Collins, former prosecutor.

Pat Collins, who led the prosecution of former Governor Ryan, says Blagojevich will need a team of three to five lawyers with trial experience. Sorosky said Tuesday he has four to five lawyers ready to come on board.

Sorosky said that he is in it for the long haul. There may be a clearer picture of who's in it with him when everyone appears before Judge James Zagel again next week.

The ex-governor remains free on bond, but he wants some expanded travel privileges. His attorney says the governor wants to travel outside the country.

The Sun-Times is reporting Blagojevich wants to go to Costa Rica To film a TV reality show. Blagojevich's attorney wouldn't confirm that, and his publicity agent didn't respond to our question on that subject.


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