Rod Blagojevich denies shaking down race track owner

Reuters News
Posted: May 27, 2011 5:13 PM
Rod Blagojevich denies shaking down race track owner

By Janan Hanna

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich took the stand on Friday for the second day in his federal corruption trial, denying he tried to shake down a race track owner in exchange for signing legislation favorable to the industry.

Government witnesses testified that in the fall of 2008, Blagojevich directed lobbyist Lon Monk to lean on track owner John Johnston to give or raise a $100,000 contribution while Blagojevich stalled on signing a revenue-sharing bill that would divert riverboat casino money to the horse racing business.

But Blagojevich said he postponed signing the legislation not because he was waiting for campaign cash, but because he wanted his aides to study the bill to make sure legislators had not inserted "poison pill" language.

Blagojevich explained that sometimes lawmakers insert hidden language to routine bills in an effort to get some proposal passed the governor would otherwise oppose.

Referring to his adversarial relationship with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, Blagojevich told jurors he was concerned about "Madigan shenanigans."

Prosecutors accuse Blagojevich of trying to leverage the appointment to fill President Barack Obama's U.S. senate seat and other official actions for personal and political gain.

His defense claims Blagojevich received no money and was just talking a lot.

His first trial ended in August with a jury convicting him on a single count of lying to the FBI. The jury deadlocked on the other charges.

Blagojevich said Friday he was concerned his former close adviser, Chris Kelly, who by that time was about to plead guilty to tax charges, had an interest in having the racing industry legislation signed because he was trying to curry favor with the Johnstons.

Blagojevich said Kelly had been seeking a pardon from then-President George Bush and that the Johnstons had a relationship with the president's brother, Jeb Bush.

Although he favored the bill, Blagojevich said he wanted to distance himself from Kelly and his troubles.

Kelly died from an apparent suicide in 2009.

Blagojevich did not deny he was seeking a campaign contribution from Johnston and his family, whom he described as longtime friends and contributors. But he said he cautioned Monk to keep the two issues separate.

He told Monk to "be careful" and "don't cross any lines," Blagojevich said, emphatically denying he linked the contribution to his signing the bill.

(Writing and reporting by Janan Hanna; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton)