Federal prosecutors allege that Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested this morning, attempted to leverage his authority to appoint President-elect Barack Obamas replacement in the U.S. Senate in order to get himself appointed HHS secretary in the new administration or, barring that, other lucrative opportunities.
The arrest and corruption charges against the governor, 51, and his chief of staff, John Harris, 46, stem from a long and wide-ranging investigation of the Blagojevich administration involving appointments and state business traded for campaign contributions. They are charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribes.
The governor's press office issued the following statement: "Todays allegations do nothing to impact the services, duties or function of the state. Families will continue to receive healthcare, seniors and persons with disabilities the support and services they need, the hundreds of thousands of unemployed Illinoisans will still receive assistance. Our state will continue to ensure health, safety, and economic stability for the citizens of Illinois.
Blagojevich was released on his own recognizance after appearing in court.
A 76-page FBI affidavit describes intercepted phone calls in which Blagojevich explores various positions he might ply in exchange for Obamas Senate seat. In a conversation with an unnamed deputy governor the day after the election, the governor allegedly floated the HHS position, though he noted the Energy Department is the one that makes the most money, and two days later he was recorded telling an adviser he was willing to trade the appointment for the HHS job. Other possibilities he pursued, according to the affidavit, included a high-paying position with Change to Win, a union coalition pushing healthcare reform.
Prosecutors also allege Blagojevich attempted to extract a $50,000 campaign contribution from the chief executive officer of Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago as payback for $8 million in funding for pediatric carethe contribution was not made, and an intercepted phone call between Blagojevich and others indicated the governor was contemplating rescinding his commitment to Children's, according to the affidavit.
Children's Memorial identified the funding in question as Medicaid reimbursement sought for care provided by subspecialists in a lobbying effort in collaboration with other Illinois providers. "If such allegations are true, Children's Memorial, pediatric physicians and the children of Illinois have been victimized," the statement said. "Children's Memorial is cooperating fully with federal authorities on this matter.
The document also says that money flowed to the governors campaign fund from kickback schemes involving the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, which were central to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgeralds successful prosecutions of Stuart Levine, who served on the board, and political fundraiser Tony Rezko.
In 2006, Modern Healthcare named Blagojevich one of 30 people who could have a powerful impact on healthcare in the future. -- by Gregg Blesch
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