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Blagojevich’s ex-chief of staff testifies

CHICAGO — In the opening statements of the Blagojevich trial Tuesday afternoon, defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. passionately painted a picture of a very misunderstood ex-governor. Adam described former Governor Rod Blagojevich as a “big idea guy,” a “C student” who had the “A student” do the work. In his hour-and-twenty minute speech, Adam told the jury that Blagojevich was a victim of his own naivety, a well-intentioned politician who made the mistake of surrounding himself with criminals.

But when Alonzo Monk, Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, took the stand today, he told a different story.

According to Monk’s testimony, he and the former governor, along with their chief fundraisers, Chris Kelly and Antoin “Tony” Rezko, conspired to use the Illinois governor’s office to make money for themselves.

Monk said that as early as 2002, before Blagojevich had even been officially elected, the four spoke about the possibility of using Blagojevich’s power for personal gain.

In the late summer of 2003, Monk testified that the four held a formal meeting at Rezko’s office in Chicago. During the meeting, Rezko introduced eight or nine “opportunities” that he said could generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for the four men. Some of the plans, Monk said, directly involved state action.

Monk went on to say that their plan was to save the money until Blagojevich left public office at which time the money would be divided evenly between the four.

When asked by the prosecution why wait until Blagojevich left office, Monk answered, “because in all likelihood, it was wrong, and it would be breaking the law.”

Monk said that the four met several times after the initial meeting to talk about the similar subject matter. Although most times Blagojevich or Monk were not asked to do anything in particular, the former chief of staff said he understood he “might have to cause the state to make one or more of these plans come to fruition.”

During more than four hours of questioning, Monk explained how the four secured kickbacks for themselves through state action. In particular, Monk explained the Pension Obligation Bond scandal, in which the Blagojevich administration entrusted Bear Stearns to sell $10 billion in state bonds.

Monk said that the state was looking at five or six major investment companies to sell state bonds. Whichever company received the job of selling the bonds stood to make millions of dollars. Blagojevich, with the encouragement of Chris Kelly, gave the job to Bear Stearns. Monk testified the job was given to Bear Stearns not because they were believed to be the most qualified but because Kelly claimed the group of four could receive money for it. Not too long after the deal, a lobbyist for Bear Stearns, Robert Kjellander, gave Rezko $500,000 which Monk claims was to be split up among the four after Blagojevich left office.

Monk, who has plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to solicit a bribe, entered into a plea bargain with the government. By cooperating and testifying against Blagojevich, Monk said he would most likely only serve two years in prison. The 55-yea-old attended law school with the ex-governor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, where they roomed together their senior year. He said the two remained close over the years; Monk even served as an usher at Blagojevich’s wedding.

The prosecution was the only side to question Monk today, and defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. said he did not expect to question the witness until Monday. Adam also added that it was the defense’s policy not to comment on Monk or any witness while he is on the stand.

Blagojevich followed that policy as he left the Dirksen Federal Building, only pausing to shake hands and yell “go hawks” before driving away. On his way in this morning, however, he commented about his innocence.

“When you follow the money, you’ll see that I’m an honest man.”

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