CHICAGO (AFP) – Prosecutors described the ousted Illinois governor accused of trying to auction President Barack Obama’s vacated senate seat as a greedy shakedown artist desperate for money.
“The governor of Illinois was shaking people down,” prosecutor Christopher Niewoehner said in opening statements of Rod Blagojevich’s retrial on corruption charges.
“The governor of Illinois is not allowed to enrich himself by using his power. It’s that simple.”
Prosecutors broke down the former governor’s case into five shakedown schemes, telling a mostly female jury that he was motivated by his lack of money — in late 2008 he was $200,000 in debt.
Blagojevich’s lawyer, Aaron Goldstein, implored jurors to look for a bag of cash or secret bank account that the government had turned up against his client.
“After each witness testifies, after each recording is played and after each issue is discussed, ask yourself one simple question: what ended up happening? Time after time after time, you’ll be left with the same answer.”
Goldstein added: “Rod gets nothing. Rod does nothing.”
Blagojevich’s first trial ended in August with a conviction on a charge of lying to federal agents and a jury deadlock on the 23 other counts in the indictment, including racketeering, bribery, attempted extortion, and wire fraud.
Prosecutors immediately vowed to retry the case while the flamboyant politician and media phenomenon returned to the airwaves, pitching everything from his innocence to pistachios.
During the first trial, the jury heard a host of secret tapes of Blagojevich’s profanity-filled conversations.
The most explosive was when he called his chance to appoint a new senator to replace Obama “fucking golden,” and said ” I’m not just gonna give it up for fucking nothing.”
Prosecutors referenced the now-famous line in opening statements.
“That’s the governor of Illinois talking about a United States Senate seat.”
Blagojevich, 54, is also accused of trying to shakedown a children’s hospital, a construction executive, and a racetrack owner for campaign contributions.
Blagojevich’s defense team insisted that his ramblings — which included musing about appointing talk show queen Oprah Winfrey to the seat — were mere political horse-trading and the jury failed to reach a conclusion on whether a crime was committed.
Goldstein said the seat was “golden.” But it was so to the power-hungry people who wanted to be named, not to Blagojevich.
“The soon-to-be president of the United States was sending messages to Rod to appoint Valerie Jarrett,” Goldstein said. “That Senate seat was effing golden to all those other people.”
While prosecutors repeatedly accused Blagojevich of acting purely out of self-interest, Goldstein tried to impress his record of public service upon jurors.
“Say what you want about Rod, no one cared about health care more than that guy right there,” Goldstein said, pointing to his client. “Sick children were cured because of him.”
The trial is expected to last weeks. It is not clear whether Blagojevich will take the stand in his own defense.