Experts point to extortion charge in Blago case

June 7, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The former governor says those allegations are all government lies. But experts say one of those counts may present real problems for Blagojevich.

Four of the counts in United States of America versus Blagojevich deal with the ex-governor's alleged sale of the Senate seat. That's drawn the most public attention. It makes for the most sizzle in the prosecution's case.

But there is another count in the indictment that veteran defense lawyers and former prosecutors believe is the strongest piece in the government's case. It involves count 15 - Children's Memorial hospital, its CEO and a charge of attempted extortion.

Pediatric care is expensive for parents who often can't afford it, and for hospitals which rely on the state to help make up some of their losses.

In the summer of 2008, Children's Memorial appealed to the Governor's office to increase what the state pays to cover pediatric care for those who can't pay.

In a phone conversation in mid-October with Children's CEO Patrick Magoon, the Governor said he would approve a $10 million increase in the Medicaid payments and that Magoon should keep this quiet until the end of the year when it would take effect.

Five days after that call, prosecutors say Magoon received a call from the governor's brother Robert asking Magoon "to raise $25,000 for the governor."

An uncomfortable Magoon didn't respond and wouldn't take later calls from the governor's brother.

On November 12, in a meeting at Blagojevich campaign headquarters, the governor's long time friend Lon Monk says the governor "got upset" that no fund raiser had been set up, and he said words to the effect, "screw them."

Then Rod Blagojevich made a call to his deputy Governor Rob Greenlee - call 572 - secretly recorded by the FBI in which the governor asks if they could pull back the Medicaid increase for Children's Memorial if we needed to - budgetary concerns, right? Greenlee put the brakes on the plan, and Children's never got the money.

"We're looking at what the government's proffer of some of the stuff. There's a lot more that's going to come out when they hear it in the governor's own words or the words of the witnesses on tape. I think that's, that's a problem," said Prof. Richard Kling, Kent College of Law.

Blagojevich's lawyers will argue that he chose to pull back the money pledge simply for budgetary reasons.

"The governor's gonna say on direct examination that everything in government is timing. Sometimes you have to know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em and I, as the governor of Illinois, I decide when that happens, and it's perfectly legitimate and perfectly legal," said Prof. Leonard Cavise, DePaul College of Law.

But the deputy governor will testify for the government that he did not believe the decision to be budget driven. Blagojevich's first chief of staff Lon Monk will also testify, and so will the CEO of Children's Memorial.

"You have jury appeal because you have something real at stake. It's not the horse-trading of politics, but it's something real at stake - poor children's health. And you have the governor allegedly holding that hostage to a campaign contribution," said Patrick Collins, former U.S. attorney.

Prosecutors will argue that count 15 is a quid pro quo - clear and simple. It has a beginning, middle, and end, and it has the governor on tape. But what the jury decides may well depend on the testimony from Monk, Greenlee and others who were close to the governor. Are they credible? Is their take on this sequence believable?

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