Blago charged in new corruption indictment

July 21, 2010 9:15:46 AM PDT
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich now faces a new indictment on corruption charges.Prosecutors explain this new indictment will help avoid delays in the case. The new indictment is very similar to the previous one.

Blagojevich is still charged with attempting to profit from naming someone to the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by President Obama.

The first indictment of Rod Blagojevich had 19 counts. The new one has 24. That doesn't mean that the government is alleging new or different criminal activity. In fact, the basic accusations - the alleged sale of the Senate seat, trading favors for campaign contributions, and others - are the same. They've just been re-packaged.

The fundamental question is will the charges in the new, superseding indictment be more difficult for the government to prove?

Many of the counts in the original indictment of ex-Governor Blagojevich were built in part around the "theft of honest services" statute. Prosecutors wouldn't necessarily have to prove that Blagojevich actually put money in his pocket from a wrongful act, only convince a jury that his actions were illegal and that they deprived the public of its right to honest services.

That statute is now under challenge because of vagueness. The Supreme Court could throw it out, so a preemptive move, prosecutors have won a re-indictment of Blagojevich on more specific violations of law - extortion, bribery, racketeering.

Those charges, many argue, are tougher to prove than an honest services violation, but former assistant U.S. attorney Patrick Collins believes the government's case against Blagojevich remains strong because of the secret tape recordings the government has.

"Tapes are incredibly powerful evidence of intent. And the biggest problem you have in public corruption cases is what did the defendant intend to do? What was in his head? And if the tapes are anything like we're told they are based on the criminal complaint, in December of 2008, that's powerful stuff," said Collins.

Law Professor Richard Kling of Kent College of Law argues that racketeering is a charge juries may grasp easier than honest services.

"You give the jury 20 or 30-count document, it's going to be easier to find him guilty of a couple of counts. Give a smaller indictment and a lot less counts, it becomes much more difficult in my opinion," said Professor Kling.

Blagojevich's attorneys contend the new indictment is as flawed as the first one.

The new indictment still contains "theft of honest" services allegations, but they've moved more into the background.

The Supreme Court could make its decision on that law in late spring, just prior to the scheduled start of the Blagojevich trial in June.

The former governor was not in court Thursday, but he will be next Wednesday when he's scheduled for arraignment on charges in the new indictment.

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