Kelly enters guilty plea on fraud charges

September 9, 2009 4:30:28 AM PDT
Chris Kelly, a friend and adviser of former governor Rod Blagojevich, has reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors in a separate case.As Blagojevich launched his media blitz Tuesday, Kelly entered a guilty plea on mail fraud charges in connection with a kickback scheme.

Kelly was Blagojevich's chief fundraiser, so federal prosecutors would like to have his cooperation when the former governor goes on trial.

"I will be completely vindicated because the things that they've said are completely not the case, and completely not true," said Blagojevich during an appearance on the Today Show.

The appearance was another wave of Blagojevich's so-called Innocence Tour. While that was underway, Kelly pleaded guilty.

But Tuesday's case- and plea deal- had nothing to do with the former governor, even though Kelly is charged in that pay-to-play scheme. Tuesday's case was, instead, about roofing contracts at O'Hare International Airport.

Kelly now admits to paying kickbacks to win inflated contracts so his roofing company could perform work on United and American Airlines' facilities. For that, and another charge, Kelly accepted an 8 year prison sentence and forfeiture of nearly $450,000 dollars in assets.

Kelly's plea deal with the government does not include any mention of cooperation on the Blagojevich case, but the question hung high in the courtroom. When responding to a judge, Kelly said, "I would be remiss if I didn't say there is a great deal of pressure in my life right now, but I'm doing it freely.... and I am accepting responsibility."

Attorneys for the former governor said they expect Kelly will cooperate and testify in Rod Blagojevich's trial.

"Assuming-and we have every reason to believe-- Mr. Kelly will be truthful and candid in his cooperation with the government, it will only serve to enhance the former governor's hope that he will be acquitted. The truth will help, not hurt, so we hope it goes forward," said Allan Ackerman, Blagojevich's attorney.

On the Today Show, Blagojevich sounded a similar theme while promoting his new book. The former governor admits to calling a Senate seat bleeping "golden" but not in the context of cashing in.

"I did say that. But I said it in the context of politics-had to do with helping the people of Illinois, health care, and the Senate seat," said Blagojevich on Tuesday.

Kelly is scheduled to report to prison one week from Friday to begin his 8-year sentence.

Blagojevich's trial begins early next summer, which means Kelly will have been behind bars for almost 9 months. That time could be used to decide whether or not to cooperate with prosecutors on the Blagojevich case- and time that could be shaved off the prison term.


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