I-Team Report: The Honor System

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich pauses as he talks with reporters at the Federal Court building after the judge handed the case to the jury in his corruption trial Thursday, June 9, 2011 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
June 16, 2011 4:42:49 AM PDT
A convicted liar such as Rod Blagojevich and the honor system wouldn't seem to be a very good fit. But a promise to be truthful is exactly what the federal court allows defendants who claim they are broke.

The man who once was emperor apparently still has his clothes; $400,000 worth of custom business suits and designer ties bought during his six years as governor.

And he has his family's $650,000 Ravenswood home along with a condo in a Washington, D.C. DuPont Circle building worth nearly a half million dollars.

But with Blagojevich's $2.7 campaign fund exhausted by legal bills from his first trial, the ex-governor submitted paperwork claiming that he was broke - "in forma pauperis" - in the form of a pauper.

"For whatever money he has made that money has kept them in the house and kept a roof over their heads. They don't live a very lavish lifestyle by any stretch of the imagination," said Glenn Selig, The Publicity Agency.

So, since the end of the first trial a year ago, after a driver dropped him off in front of the Dirksen Federal Building, Mr. Blagojevich has had the best legal team that the taxpayers can buy.

At $125 an hour, the impeached governor's public tab so far is estimated at about a quarter million dollars.

Despite the national TV commercial he did late last year, a few paid speeches, $50 per autograph sessions and a book still for sale in stores and on the Internet for $24.95, the courts and the government are trusting that Mr. Blagojevich has not made enough money to pay for his own lawyers.

Pauper defendants - even one such as Rod Blagojevich who was already convicted of lying - operate on the honor system.

"They squeeze you financially and make it impossible to raise a family," Blagojevich recently told reporters.

But according to Cook County public records, the Blagojevich family paid their property tax bill of $5,500 on time in March. And Washington D.C. records show the first tax installment of almost $16,000 was paid on time.

"I suspect they don't have an exception for people who have already been convicted of lying. They may develop that rule after this case. Remember, his chief defense this time is, I know I said all of those things on the tapes but I didn't mean them. In affect he's saying, I don't tell the truth," said Ann Lousin, John Marshall law professor.

Neither the government nor Judge James Zagel have asked for updated Blagojevich financial information in nearly a year and a half. Blagojevich still has a public relations firm handle his PR from Tampa, Florida.

"The publicity company gets paid when he has some income if he makes no money we don't make any money...At the end of this there should be a very bright future for him," said Selig.

"The government will probably file a motion to say we would like to recoup all of those attorney's fees we paid your lawyers," said Lousin.

One member of Blagojevich's publicly financed legal defense team tells the I-Team that he doesn't know how Blagojevich is making money or paying his personal bills and he claims that the ex-governor is hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.


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