I-Team Report: Requiem for a Felon

August 11, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Chuck Goudie was on the Rostenkowski case nearly 20 years ago.

The name of our story "Requiem for a Felon" is not meant with disrespect to the dead. Indeed, Dan Rosetenkowski himself predicted such a epitaph after he pleaded guilty to corruption charges. "I know that my obituary will say 'Dan Rostenkowski, felon,'" the fallen congressman once predicted. And, as with many of Rostenkowski promises, that one has also come true.

"Having plead guilty, I do not believe that I am any different than the vast majority of the members of Congress and their staffs," said Rostenkowski in 1996.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski admitted having congressional payrollers do his family chores, including some work on his house. And he admitted selling congressional crystal gifts and office rocking chairs.

Even though he was never accused of selling a Senate seat, as Rod Blagojevich is today, Rostenkowski did 17 months in a federal prison.

"The difficulties in interpreting what is personal and official was the congressman's problem," said former Chicago U.S. Attorney Dan Webb.

Webb was Rostenkowski's lawyer. Webb is on trial in Atlanta and ABC7 talked with him on the phone shortly after the ex-congressman's death.

"I think it was the day we decided to plead guilty. He didn't want to do it. At the same time he didn't want to put his family and friends through a trial with everyone having to trapse off to DC. And I've always been very proud of what he did with himself after that was put behind him," said Webb.

For the most part, Rostenkowski held fast to his belief that he had been singled out for taking advantage of office perks just like most on Capitol Hill. He was prosecuted by a rising star in the justice department.

"People are not sent to that institution right up there to line their pockets and that's essentially what we are saying Congressman Rostenkowski did," said Eric Holder, then US Attorney in Washington D.C, now Attorney General.

Rostenkowski, a Democrat, was eventually pardoned for his crimes by Democratic president Bill Clinton. But the felony remained on Rosteknowski's record.

In the last interview, Chuck Goudie did with Rostenkowski, he seemed to give a little, admitting that perhaps he had erred.

"We changed the law so often, I just didn't change. That what is. But, ya know, that's history," said Rostenkowski.

Because of his commanding presence, size and stature, Dan Rostenkowski was called "the chairman" long after he was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

It cannot be overlooked that Rostenkowski's fall from glory made way for the rise of another Illinois politician, a man elected a few years later in the 5th Congressional District who then ran for Illinois governor and was elected to that spot: Rod Blagojevich.

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