Dec 10, 2008

US governor charged in Obama successor probe

The governor of Illinois was roused from bed and arrested after prosecutors said he was caught on wiretaps audaciously scheming to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat for cash or a job
for himself in the new administration.

FBI agents arrested Gov Rod Blagojevich before daybreak at his Chicago home yesterday and took him away while his family was still asleep, saying the wiretaps convinced them that Blagojevich's "political corruption crime spree" had to be stopped before it was too late.

"The Senate seat, as recently as days ago, seemed to be on the verge of being auctioned off," US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said.

Prosecutors did not accuse Obama himself of any wrongdoing or even knowing about the matter. The president-elect said: "I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening."

Federal investigators bugged the governor's campaign offices and tapped his home phone, capturing conversations laced with profanity and tough-guy talk from the governor.

"I've got this thing and it's (expletive) golden," Blagojevich, a 51-year-old Democrat, said of his authority to appoint Obama's replacement, "and I'm just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing. I'm not gonna do it."

Chicago FBI chief Robert Grant said even seasoned investigators were stunned by what they heard, particularly since the governor had known for at least three years he was under investigation for alleged hiring fraud and clearly realised agents might be listening in.

The FBI said in court papers that the governor was overheard conspiring to sell the Senate seat for campaign cash or lucrative jobs for himself or his wife, Patti, a real estate agent.

He was released on his own recognisance.