July 2, 2006


Feds hot on state jobs trail: Prosecutors say multiple agencies implicated in rigged, political hiring (Rick Pearson and John Chase, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporter Ray Long contributed to this report, July 1, 2006, Chicago Tribune)

Federal authorities have uncovered evidence implicating multiple state agencies in their investigation into "allegations of endemic hiring fraud" in Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said in a letter made public Friday. [...]

[T]he letter carries severe political overtones for Blagojevich, the first Democrat elected governor in 26 years, who rode to office on a populist theme of reform but who finds his bid for re-election in November clouded by scandal.

Fitzgerald's letter said federal investigators originally began investigating "allegations of fraudulent hiring practices" about a year ago and opened a second investigation "late last summer."

The letter said the federal investigation focuses on possible violations of the 1990 "Rutan" decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled that most state jobs should be free of political influence in hiring or promotions.

"Those investigations have now been merged and involve the alleged rigging of state employment practices to enable political hiring in violation of Rutan and include, among other things, the preparation of fraudulent hiring documentation," Fitzgerald wrote. "Our investigation has now implicated multiple state agencies and departments and we have developed a number of credible witnesses."

Portions of the Fitzgerald letter were blacked out to prevent the release of further information, and a Fitzgerald spokesman declined to comment further.

Fitzgerald's letter said Madigan was prepared to broaden her investigation "concerning fraudulent hiring practices at two state agencies" that she had begun in November.

The Tribune reported last fall that Blagojevich's office along with three state agencies--the Departments of Children and Family Services, Corrections and Transportation--had received federal subpoenas seeking hiring information dating to March 2002, when Blagojevich won the Democratic primary.

On Wednesday, administration sources told the Tribune that the federal government's request for information had gone beyond those three departments as Blagojevich's top attorney made a sweeping request for information from 15 state agency directors. The request asked the directors to compile lists of their personnel staff since the beginning of the Blagojevich administration as well as any computer records they possessed.

The Tribune also reported last fall that a federal criminal grand jury was investigating allegations of hiring improprieties involving the head of Blagojevich's patronage office, Joe Cini, and two others "in relation to public corruption." Blagojevich has steadfastly denied that Cini, the director of the governor's office of intergovernmental affairs, and the others engaged in any wrongdoing.

Madigan's office also had been looking into allegations raised by Blagojevich's estranged father-in-law, Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), in January 2005 that prized state board and commission appointments were exchanged for campaign contributions. Mell later recanted the allegations, but Blagojevich has blamed his father-in-law's comments for the scrutiny of federal and state prosecutors.

Madigan released Fitzgerald's letter in announcing in a statement that she had agreed to refer her hiring investigation to federal prosecutors to "avoid the potential for inadvertent interference with each other's investigations."

Fitzgerald thanked Madigan for realizing "the most important consideration for both our offices is that the very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud be thoroughly and expeditiously investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted."

The move by Madigan also provides her with some political cover as she seeks re-election to a second term on a Democratic ticket headed by Blagojevich.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 2, 2006 9:18 AM

Maybe, if we're really lucky, some insiders will decide to sell out and bring down the entire political class, Democratic and GOP alike.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 2, 2006 12:38 PM

Like the Siegelman case/verdict, don't expect this one to gain much national attention, even if Blagojevich's supporters want to spin this as an out-of-control Republican prosecutor at work. The big media outlets are still in the mode of being nice to Santa Fitz in hopes of either still sweet-talking him into indicting somoone -- anyone! -- besides Scooter Libby in the Plame case, or more importantly, having him on their side during arguments by Libby's attorneys that their reporters will have to testify at Scooter's trial next year.

Posted by: John at July 2, 2006 12:55 PM

Judy Baar Topinka is a member in good standing in the 'Outfit' (the bipartisan cabal that runs politics in the state, looks after each other, ensures the money gets spread around, and plays footsie with the Mob). She's no prize. The Boy Governor may well lose this election, but with JBT it'll be more of the same.

Posted by: Steve White at July 2, 2006 12:59 PM

George Ryan in a skirt.

Posted by: Sandy P at July 2, 2006 4:35 PM

I see how the GOP turned itself into a minority party in a state it dominated--what a bunch of whiners...

Posted by: oj at July 2, 2006 4:38 PM

The GOP made itself a minority by putting politics and "getting along" over principle. If there's no difference in principle, why not sign up for the Democratic Party? It's got the better vote machine.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 3, 2006 7:22 PM

Because there is a difference to anyone but an extremist.

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2006 7:27 PM