Former chief of staff says Blagojevich made throat-slash gesture to urge silence about money
CHICAGO – CHICAGO (AP) — Rod Blagojevich drew his hand across his throat in a slashing gesture to signal that he didn't want anyone told about alleged moneymaking plans involving his power as governor, his former chief of staff testified Thursday.
In testimony Thursday, Alonzo Monk told jurors at Blagojevich's corruption trial that the governor gave the signal when they were alone in his campaign office in 2007 or 2008 — indicating that if anybody asked about the alleged plans he should tell them nothing.
Monk also said Blagojevich would sometimes use his fingers to indicate the four members of an inner circle who allegedly planned moneymaking schemes.
Monk has said the group members were himself, Blagojevich and two fundraisers and were frequently referred to as "one, two, three, four." On at least one occasion, when he didn't want to speak aloud, Blagojevich held up fingers to indicate each member of the group.
Blagojevich's penchant for gesturing has become an issue at the trial.
The judge in the case warned Blagojevich earlier Thursday not to make gestures, expressions or audible sounds during testimony. Prosecutors had complained that he made sounds the day before during Monk's testimony that jurors could hear.
Monk testified Thursday that Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko, currently awaiting sentencing for fraud and other charges, slipped him as much as $90,000 in cash when he was the governor's chief of staff — typically $10,000 at a time stuffed in an envelope.
Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to trying to profit from his power to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama and squeezing people for campaign contributions. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 415 years in prison, though a judge would consider many factors. Blagojevich also could face fines totaling $6 million.
Monk has pleaded guilty to scheming to pressure a racetrack owner for a contribution and is testifying in hopes of getting a lighter sentence.
The former governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, a Nashville, Tenn., businessman, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the plot to sell the Senate seat and to scheming to illegally pressure a racetrack owner, who wanted the governor's signature on legislation involving the tracks, for campaign money.
Monk said Rezko began paying him cash in 2004. At Monk's wedding, Rezko's present to Monk was $10,000 in cash and an offer to pay for a remodeling project at the newlyweds' home. Thanks to the flow of cash, which Monk kept at home, he said he never had to withdraw money from the bank or use an ATM.
But, he added, he never told Blagojevich about the money he was receiving from Rezko.
"I didn't think Blagojevich would approve of the cash payments because it would put us both in jeopardy," he told the jury.
He had previously testified that the inner circle's alleged scheme involved splitting ill-gotten gains after Blagojevich left office.
Earlier Thursday, Monk testified about how Blagojevich put supporters and fundraisers on state boards that oversaw major business sectors, often at the urging of members of his inner circle.
Prosecutors are expected to argue later that the appointments were a bid to ensure loyalists were in place so Blagojevich's insiders could readily exert influence on key board decisions and profit from them
Monk explained how Blagojevich was fond of referring to board appointments as "ambassadorships." Blagojevich felt they were "spots that he had the power to appoint not unlike the president appointing ambassadors" to foreign countries, Monk said.