Testimony: Rod Blagojevich, aide schemed to get racetrack owner’s donation
BY LARK TURNER AND NATASHA KORECKI Chicago Sun-Times May 17, 2011 7:40PM
Lon Monk , who was a friend since college and then a top aide and adviser to Rod Blagojevich, leaves the Dirksen Federal Building on Tuesday after testifying as the ex-gov’s corruption retrial continues. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times
Updated: August 31, 2011 12:37AM
In a secretly taped conversation at his campaign office, Rod Blagojevich and his close friend Lon Monk plotted how best to hit up a racetrack executive for a $100,000 contribution, according to testimony.
John Johnston, a racetrack owner, was waiting on Blagojevich to sign a bill granting subsidies to the industry. While the bill remained in limbo, Johnston was losing $9,000 daily, Monk said.
“I wanna go to him without crossing the line and say, give us the f----- money,” Monk is heard telling Blagojevich in an early December 2008 conversation caught on a bug in Blagojevich’s campaign office.
Monk testified Tuesday that the two were rehearsing a conversation Monk would have with Johnston, and that he knew he was engaging in “pay to play” when he talked to Johnston later that same day.
It’s testimony from Monk — Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, his law school roommate and a member of his wedding party – that may sting the most for the ex-governor. Monk is the government witness Blagojevich would most like to talk to face-to-face, he told the Sun-Times before his retrial began.
But Monk won’t be on the stand for long; the prosecution’s slimmed-down approach has clarified his role in their case against the ex-governor. During the last trial, Monk, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to solicit a bribe, was on the stand for more than three days. This time, the prosecution finished up its questioning before the end of the day Tuesday.
In last year’s testimony, Monk described elaborate alleged schemes plotted with political fund-raiser and convicted businessman Tony Rezko, including descriptions of code names for Monk, Blagojevich, Rezko and fund-raiser Christopher Kelly. All that was stripped from the prosecution’s questioning, which instead focused on the alleged racetrack, tollway and Chicago Academy shakedowns.
Monk has vulnerabilities. He lied to the FBI when agents first came knocking in 2004, he testified in court Tuesday. On tape, he’s heard telling Blagojevich he wasn’t going to a wake because he was traveling to Oklahoma to attend an event for his ailing father.
But he testified he was really going “to the Dominican Republic to play some golf with my friends.” He lied to Blagojevich, he explained, “because I didn’t want him to know I was going on vacation. I did this once before during a fund-raising period and we got into a big screaming match, and I didn’t want to do that again.”
Besides pleading guilty to conspiracy to solicit a bribe, Monk has admitted to taking $70,000 to $90,000 in cash payments from Rezko. Monk didn’t report the income, didn’t tell Blagojevich he was getting the money and didn’t deposit it into his bank account because he wanted to keep the payments secret, he testified.
Monk took the stand on the heels of construction consultant Gerald Krozel, who said Tuesday that Blagojevich and Monk pressured him into donating campaign cash in exchange for passing a multi-billion dollar tollway bill.
Blagojevich was desperate for campaign funds at the end of 2008, Monk testified.
“He was consistently concerned about the amount of fund-raising that was going on,” he said. “It was never enough.”