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State Police secretly worked with FBI in bugging Rod Blagojevich

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

It was the fall of 2008 when an Illinois State Police technician was inside of Rod Blagojevich’s North Side campaign office under orders from Blagojevich’s camp to search for bugs.

The tech left the office telling Blagojevich’s people that no listening devices were found.

But the bugs were, in fact, in place, the FBI was listening, and the State Police employee even knew where they were. He pretended not to detect them.

That’s because the Illinois State Police, the agency charged with protecting Blagojevich and his family, was at the same time secretly working with the FBI, providing them with inside information during a critical period of the probe against the former governor.

Details of the State Police’s little-known role in Blagojevich’s investigation were pieced together through a series of interviews and records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times and comes as lawyers prepare Monday to give opening statements in the retrial of the former governor’s corruption trial.

The extraordinary cooperation came as the agency was asked to tap state resources to sweep for bugs for a then-governor who was widely known to be under investigation.

The revelation appeared to stun Rod and Patti Blagojevich in a recent interview.

“Wow,” Rod Blagojevich said, describing his State Police security detail as “quasi-family.”

The detail that worked the closest with the family, including in front of his Ravenswood Manor home, was largely kept in the dark about the agency’s work with the FBI, sources with knowledge of the probe said.

But two top officials within the agency — Director and Rod Blagojevich appointee Larry Trent and deputy director Charles Brueggemann — were in covert conversations with the FBI in the fall of 2008, letting them know when Blagojevich wanted sweeps of his campaign office, as well as other help, according to sources and phone records obtained by the Sun-Times. Both men were reached on Friday and declined to speak in detail about their involvement.

“I have no regrets about our responsibility to the people of Illinois and our responsibility to justice,” Trent said. “The balancing act of maintaining profound confidentiality while performing certain duties presented unique and difficult challenges. I believe we simply did our job as the public should expect us to do.”

Trent stepped down from his post in 2009 and now works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Brueggemann, now in the private sector, said only: “The State Police did the right thing.”

Brueggemann’s phone records show a flurry of phone calls back and forth with the FBI and its special-agent-in-charge, Robert Grant, before and after several of the critical dates in the timeline that led to Blagojevich’s Dec. 9, 2008 arrest. Brueggemann sometimes followed the talks with calls to Trent’s home phone, records show.

The information provided by the men helped hasten the investigation as well as aid in the FBI’s delicate late-night bug installation into Blagojevich’s campaign headquarters — timed to happen before an Oct. 22 meeting between Blagojevich and his inner circle, according to sources.

John Wyma, a lobbyist and Blagojevich pal who was secretly cooperating, told the feds he was to meet with Blagojevich at his Ravenswood campaign office on that date to discuss fund-raising. The feds at the time were probing pay-to-play allegations. The State Police also relayed to the FBI that Blagojevich’s camp wanted an Oct. 22 sweep, sources said. From Oct. 17 to Oct. 24, 2008, Brueggemann’s phone records show 16 calls to or from the FBI. On the eve of the Dec. 9, 2008 arrest, Brueggemann talked to the FBI for at least 35 minutes, the records showed. The State Police swept the campaign office that day, according to Robert Blagojevich’s testimony at trial. That was three days after a Chicago Tribune article revealed the feds were listening in on Blagojevich.

The records also show five calls between the two agencies on Dec. 30, 2008, the day that Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate seat.

The initial bug installation propelled the investigation, giving authorities evidence to ask a judge for expanded wiretaps of phone lines. FBI Special Agent Dan Cain testified at Blagojevich’s first trial that his office eventually captured talk on 10 different phones or places in the probe. It resulted in more than 5,000 sessions of recordings of the former governor and top aides.

Historically, the State Police has tiptoed around political land mines, helping send some with clout to jail while facing questions about its independence in other cases.

An agency probe led to the 1997 conviction of a top political backer of former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar who was involved in a corrupt tollway land deal.

In the 1998 governor’s race, Democrat Glenn Poshard blasted the agency for not bringing charges against corrupt secretary of state employees who were later central figures in the case against his winning GOP opponent, George Ryan.

And the agency drew legislative criticism for following then-Gov. Blagojevich’s directive in his first term and yanking the security detail of his rival, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, after she wrote a legal opinion blocking the ex-governor’s efforts to mortgage the James R. Thompson Center.

Terrance W. Gainer, the U.S. Senate’s sergeant at arms who headed the Illinois State Police from 1991 to 1998, praised Trent and Brueggeman — both former underlings — for putting aside political risks.

“You’d be conflicted. Here’s a guy who’s your boss and appointed you,” Gainer said, referring to Trent. Brueggemann was not a Blagojevich appointee. “But you weigh that type of loyalty against your oath of office. It doesn’t surprise me they were partners with the FBI or that they did the right thing.”

In an interview, Blagojevich said he regretted naming Trent. He distanced himself from the bug sweeps, saying he didn’t order them himself, adding: “They were routine.”

Patti Blagojevich said “it was sad” when Gov. Quinn pulled the detail right after impeachment.

“They had tears in their eyes,” she said, explaining there was a media horde planted in their front yard. “It was like they were leaving us to not being able to leave our front door to get the kids to school.”

Gainer said the fact Blagojevich seemed surprised at the State Police’s role in the federal probe showed a distorted view of what the law-enforcement agency’s purpose really is all about.

“That’s where some elected leaders get it wrong. You are not loyal to the person. You are loyal to the office,” Gainer said. “Again, policemen are supposed to remember they took that oath and put the badge on. You don’t owe blind allegiance to those elected officials.”

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