Published July 01, 2010
CHICAGO – Rod and Patti Blagojevich spent more than $400,000 on clothes including tailored suits, custom-made shirts, furs and once even topped $1,300 on ties in one day during a lavish, six-year shopping spree that ended only with his arrest, a federal agent testified Thursday.
Blagojevich and his wife were awash in more than $200,000 in consumer debt when he was arrested in December 2008, federal agent Shari Schindler said at the former governor's corruption trial.
"Sometimes they used credit cards to pay for other credit cards," Schindler said.
Prosecutors were plainly suggesting that the staggering mound of debt facing the impeached Illinois governor and his wife could explain his alleged plan to get a Cabinet post or high-paying labor union or foundation job in exchange for filling the U.S. Senate seat Barack Obama was leaving to become president.
The prosecution highlighted Blagojevich's urgent concern about money, playing an FBI wiretap tape of an angry, profanity-laced tantrum in which he tells advisers, "We're struggling here."
"I'm stuck," Blagojevich says, his voice rising. "The whole world is passing me by and I'm stuck in the job of governor." Somebody asks who is passing him by. "Everybody!" he shouts. "Everybody!"
"I've got to figure out a way to take some financial stress off my family," he says, sounding increasingly frantic. He says he believes he is letting his family down. "I can't afford college for my daughter."
He grumbles that Obama's camp is not responding to his overtures about a job.
"So what can I get from him? For Patti and me? Nothing," he says, dejected.
Before court adjourned for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, prosecutors said progress has been so fast that they might rest their case as soon as the week after next.
Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to receive a high-paying job or other financial benefit in exchange for the Senate seat. He also has pleaded not guilty to scheming to launch a racketeering operation in the governor's office. If convicted, he could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, though he is sure to get much less time under federal guidelines.
His brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell the Senate seat and plotting to illegally pressure a racetrack owner for a $100,000 campaign contribution.
Blagojevich looked uncomfortable, shifting in his chair and managing a weak smile at times, as Schindler read off payment after payment he made for expensive ties and suits. Jurors followed the credit card statements projected on a screen, some looking down to jot notes. Patti Blagojevich, who entered the courtroom in the morning wearing a fashionable pink outfit, left the room before testimony about the family finances began.
She remained out of the courtroom when two government witnesses, business executives Robert Williams and Michael Winter, testified that they had worked at a company owned by convicted political fixer Tony Rezko following Blagojevich's 2002 election, when Patti Blagojevich received a $12,000-a-month consulting fee from the firm for seven months.
The two men testified that she showed up at the company only occasionally, often with her children in tow, and never seemed to take any major part in the development firm's projects.
Williams said Rezko told him he wanted to find ways of getting money to Patti Blagojevich.
Schindler said Rod and Patti Blagojevich had eight or nine credit cards and their debt rose from $170,000 to more than $200,000 in the year before his arrest when they started to tap a home equity line of credit.
A former chief of staff, Alonzo Monk, had testified during the first week of the trial that the governor had frequently visited his tailor and been known to order as many as nine suits at a time.
Next to their mortgage payments — $392,000 — their second-biggest payment from 2002 to nearly the end of 2008 was $205,000 on custom-made clothes from Tom James/Oxxford, Schindler said.
Blagojevich frequently bought custom shirts and ties, and in April 2006 spent $1,302.53 on ties in one day, said Schindler, who went through tax returns, credit card statements and other documents.
The couple shopped at upscale stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and Patti Blagojevich spent $1,847 on a designer dress in one day and $2,264 on a jacket, among other examples Schindler gave.
Several entries, Schindler said, showed Blagojevich spent more than $10,000 a day on suits. A basket-weave tie from Saks cost $179.85. Around the same time, Schindler said, he spent $2,590 in a single store on shirts. A charge on Patti Blagojevich's card showed a payment of $3,800 for furs.
The couple displayed a special fondness for Saks, spending around $57,000 there over the six-year period — the fifth-largest itemized expense; they spent $28,000 at Neiman Marcus, the 11th largest. By comparison, in the same period, they spent less than $50,000 on childcare and less than $100,000 on groceries.