Former Illinois governor denies shakedown of road builder

Reuters News
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Posted: May 31, 2011 4:34 PM
Former Illinois governor denies shakedown of road builder

(Warning: Use of strong language in paragraph 11)

By Janan Hanna

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich denied Tuesday that he tried to extort $500,000 from a road building executive in exchange for a multi-billion dollar road improvement plan.

Blagojevich admitted he had asked Gerald Krozel in the fall of 2008 for money for his campaign. But the former governor said there was not any connection with the building plan.

"Was it your goal to shake down Gerald Krozel?" attorney Aaron Goldstein asked.

"No," Blagojevich said emphatically.

Blagojevich is in his third day of testifying in his own defense in his corruption retrial.

Blagojevich's first trial last year ended in a deadlocked jury on most charges but he was convicted on one count of lying to the FBI. He did not put on a defense in that trial.

Blagojevich has not yet discussed the most famous allegation in the case -- his alleged attempt to gain personal or political favors in exchange for the appointment of a U.S. Senator to fill President Barack Obama's seat.

Blagojevich often digressed Tuesday, prompting the judge to tell him to just answer his lawyer's questions.

"You are here to answer his questions," U.S. District Judge James Zagel told Blagojevich. "I understand in giving background you would like to give us an explanation about how government works, but just answer the question."

Zagel's comment came after Blagojevich was telling jurors about his bad relationship with House Speaker Michael Madigan, his alleged desire to pass a far-reaching capital improvement bill in 2008 that would be "good for the people," and how smart his wife, Patti, is.

Former Blagojevich adviser Lon Monk had testified for the prosecution that Blagojevich in the fall of 2008 had passed a $1.8 billion plan, but had dangled the possibility of a $7 billion plan. Monk said Blagojevich wanted to see how much the road building industry would give to his campaign war chest. If they don't step up, "f*** 'em," Blagojevich told Monk, Monk testified.

Krozel also had testified he felt pressured by Blagojevich to raise money in exchange for the more expansive road bill.

Blagojevich testified that he wanted Krozel, others in the road-building industry and lawmakers to pressure legislative leaders to approve a capital improvement bill that would include billions in road and bridge improvements.

If he approved an expansive road-building project, it might undermine the chances of getting the capital bill passed, Blagojevich testified.

"I wanted to put pressure on the system" to get the capital bill passed, he said.

Blagojevich testified he had known Krozel since the late 1990s or 2000 and that Krozel was a generous supporter throughout his political career.

Blagojevich said he did, in meetings and phone calls with Krozel in the fall of 2008, ask him to help raise funds because a new ethics bill that would take effect in 2009 would prohibit contributions to the governor from businesses that had state contracts.

Blagojevich said he asked Krozel to do "whatever he could do to help" and added: "I might have said this is your last hurrah."

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton)