FBI's Rostenkowski probe indicated possible conspiracy

August 1, 2011 4:24:50 PM PDT
A federal corruption investigation into the late Chicago Congressman Dan Rostenkowski was much wider than reported in the early 1990s. That is clear from new FBI records obtained by the ABC7 I-Team.

It was a year ago next week that the once-mighty congressman died. At that time, the I-Team asked to see his FBI files under Freedom of Information laws. Some were handed over in June and July. But several files released Monday show that the FBI cast a much wider net than first thought.

"Having pled guilty, I do not believe I am any different than the vast majority of the members of Congress," said Rep. Dan Rostenkowski back in 1996.

When the towering Northwest Side congressman avoided trial, many of the details that would have come out in court didn't.

Even the name of the FBI corruption investigation, "Operation: Plate Block," wasn't known until the release of Rostenkowski's Justice Department file.

Plate Block is the trade name for a block of postage stamps, the product that Rostenkowski was originally accused of converting to cash from an account in the House of Representatives post office.

Now, these latest FBI records on Rostenkowski reveal one astonishing interview conducted by federal agents as they tried to get the goods on the Chicago congressman, an interview of one-time Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, a post that Rostenkowski helped O'Neill get.

According to the files, O'Neill told the FBI that O'Neill never personally purchased congressional stamps. O'Neill, 80 years old at the time of the interview, was then shown two lists of House members, listing members in rank by total stamp purchases and another that listed members in alphabetical order. O'Neill said he couldn't understand why such records were kept on congressional stamp purchases.

O'Neill died less than a year after the Rostenkowski interview.

In the end, Rostenkowski's stamp conversion charge was dropped when he admitted defrauding Congress of $636,000 through an illegal payroll scam, taking kickbacks from purported aides used as personal valets, and giving luxury gifts to political supporters that were bought with government funds.

The FBI records show that what began as an investigation into misuse of postage stamp benefits was elevated to a ghost-payroll "conspiracy" and that as part of it Rostenkowski was "demanding kickbacks" from his employees in Chicago.

After serving a 17-month prison term, President Bill Clinton pardoned Rostenkowski in the year 2000. He died on August 11, 2010.

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