Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2011

Blago Judge: Prosecutors Likely to Rest Thursday

The judge at the corruption retrial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says he expects the prosecution to rest its case on Thursday.

Prosecutors told Judge James Zagel they'll be able to get through their four remaining witnesses within just a few hours on Thursday.

Zagel said Wednesday that defense attorneys would have their chance to start calling witnesses Monday. And he said he thought closing arguments would happen at the very end of May.

Prosecutors have called only a dozen witnesses over 2 1/2 weeks in a drastically streamlined case. Some 30 witnesses testified over six weeks at the first trial.

Blagojevich faces 20 charges including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. He denies any wrongdoing.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Blagojevich Lawyers Now Paying for First Trial Tricks

Defense attorneys for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich are paying a steep price for the tactics the team employed in the first trial.

They used a number of tricks in the first trial which resulted in a hung jury on most of the counts against Blagojevich. The most notorious trick was probably when they promised the governor would testify, but then they reneged.

Judge James Zagel said he gave them leeway because he thought Blagojevich would testify, but he said he's not going to do that this time. That was evident Monday as defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky tried to cross examine a former Blagojevich aide, John Wyma.

Prosecutors had subpoenaed Wyma in 2008 about some of his work as a lobbyist and he's testifying under a grant of immunity.

Sorosky tried to ask questions about Wyma's cooperation to suggest that Wyma got a free pass on his own legal troubles because he gave up the governor.

Zagel stopped the questioning and told Sorosky that if he has problems with the way the prosecutors handle cooperating witnesses then he can file a complaint, but that's not relevant to this trial.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Former Blagojevich Staffer to Testify During Corruption Trial

An old friend from Rod Blagojevich's early political career will be on the stand Monday in the former governor's retrial.

John Wyma was chief of staff when Blagojevich served as a congressman and stayed on as a consultant and fundraiser through Blagojevich's time as governor. He parlayed his relationship with Blagojevich into a very lucrative career as a lobbyist. Clients paid him thousands of dollars a month because he could get meetings with the governor or his staff.

Prosecutors subpoenaed Wyma about some of his business dealings, and in 2008 he provided information that allowed prosecutors to start recording the governor's phone calls. Blagojevich talked about Wyma outside court last Thursday after Wyma started his testimony. Blagojevich seemed unusually thoughtful.

"John Wyma was someone that I thought was a close and good friend and to see him lie like he's lying, understanding that he's doing it because he's being compelled to do it because he may have done some things wrong," he said. "He's afraid that he's going to get prosecuted, doesn't take away the sense of sadness that you feel because this guy was once someone that you thought was a good friend."

Wyma is testifying with a grant of immunity from prosecutors, meaning he can't be prosecuted for any crimes he committed related to this case, provided he tells the truth. He's testifying about conversations he had with Rahm Emanuel about Barack Obama's senate seat just after the 2008 presidential election.

(Photo by Rob Wildeboer/IPR)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Jurors Due in Chicago Court for Mumbai Terror Case

A Chicago courtroom could become the unlikely venue for revealing alleged connections between the terrorist group blamed for the 2008 rampage that killed more than 160 people in Mumbai and Pakistan's main intelligence agency, which has come under increased scrutiny following Osama bin Laden's killing.

Jury selection begins Monday in the case against Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana, who is accused of helping a former boarding school friend serve as a scout for the militant group that carried out the three-day attack in India's largest city. Though the accusations against Rana are fairly straightforward, the implications of the trial could be enormous.

To make their case, federal prosecutors may lay out alleged ties between Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group blamed for the attacks, and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as the ISI. The trial comes amid growing suspicion that the ISI was complicit in harboring bin Laden, who was killed by Navy SEALs during a May 2 raid, and could lead to further strains in the already frayed relations between Pakistan and the United States.

The key government witness could be David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American with a troubled past who pleaded guilty last year to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attack by Lashkar-e-Taiba. Headley, who is cooperating with U.S. officials, told interrogators that the ISI provided training and funds for the attack against India, Pakistan's long nemesis.

Headley told authorities that Rana provided him with cover for a series of scouting missions he conducted in Mumbai. Headley also told interrogators that he was in contact with another militant, who has ties to al-Qaida, as part of a separate plot to bomb a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons that offended Muslims.

"What you'll have now in Chicago is a trial which will undoubtedly demonstrate links between Pakistan government agencies and one of the most competent terrorist organizations operating in South Asia - Lashkar-e-Taiba," said Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corp. The trial "just adds more fuel to an already tense situation."

Nearly 100 potential jurors are expected at Chicago's federal courthouse Monday. They'll be asked to fill out forms with a range of questions, from personal views on Islam to knowledge of Pakistani militant groups. Jury selection is expected to last several days.

Experts say Lashkar-e-Taiba, which means "Army of the Pure," was created with the ISI's help in the 1980s as a proxy fighting force to battle with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Counterterrorism officials say the group has gained strength with the help of the ISI since then, possibly with the help of retired officers. Pakistani officials have denied any ties with the group.

Lashkar-e-Taiba is accused of carrying out the three-day siege in Mumbai in which 10 gunmen attacked two luxury hotels, a Jewish center and a busy train station in India's financial capital, killing 166 people, including six Americans.

Rana, a Canadian national who has lived in Chicago for years, owns a Chicago-based First World Immigration Services, in the city's South Asian enclave. He and Headley met as teenagers at a Pakistani military boarding school outside Islamabad.

Prosecutors say Rana, who was arrested in 2009, provided cover for Headley by letting him open a First World office in Mumbai and travel as a supposed representative for the agency. He also allegedly helped Headley make travel arrangements as part of the plot against the Danish newspaper that in 2005 printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which angered many Muslims worldwide.

Rana is charged with providing material support for terrorism in India and Denmark. In court documents, Rana's attorneys have said he believed Headley was working for Pakistani intelligence. Headley also told authorities that he told Rana he "had been asked to perform espionage work for the ISI," according to a court filing.

"Part of the defense will be that Headley used his connections with ISI to explain the things he was doing," Rana's attorney Patrick Blegen told reporters last week. Rana "has maintained his innocence since the day he was arrested."

However, U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber ruled that that proposed defense was "objectively unreasonable."

Prosecutors have declined to comment ahead of the trial. A senior Pakistani intelligence official said he hasn't been following the trial and didn't have comment on it.

Some experts doubt the trial will reveal much, saying federal prosecutors may work hard to keep sensitive information from surfacing in the courtroom, and Headley is not the most credible witness. Headley reached a plea deal with prosecutors in the terrorism case in exchange for avoiding the death penalty and previously had been an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration after a drug conviction.

Details of Headley's possible testimony were revealed last year in an Indian government report detailing what he had allegedly told Indian investigators during questioning in Chicago.

In the report, Headley is cited describing how the ISI was deeply involved in planning the Mumbai attacks and how he reported to a man known only as "Major Iqbal," whom he called his Lashkar "handler." But some experts have suggested Iqbal could be a retired ISI officer, or that he may not even exist. In the indictment, his name is listed as unknown, and he's referred to only under the alias "Major Iqbal."

Rana is actually the seventh name on the indictment, and the only defendant in custody. Among the six others charged in absentia are "Major Iqbal" and Sajid Mir, allegedly another Lashkar-e-Taiba supervisor who also "handled" Headley.

Also indicted is Ilyas Kashmiri, the commander of the terror group Harakat-ul Jihad Islami who also is believed by Western intelligence to be al-Qaida's operational chief in Pakistan. During his travels for spying and training, Headley allegedly met with Kashmiri in Pakistan, and Kashmiri gave him instructions on how to carry out the Danish newspaper bombing, which ultimately never occurred.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 13, 2011

Ill. Residents Sue to Allow Concealed Weapons

A pair of Illinois men and a gun rights group have sued the state to try to force it to allow concealed weapons. The lawsuit comes eight days after legislation to allow state residents to carry hidden guns failed.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court by former corrections officer Michael Moore of Champaign, farmer Charles Hooks of Percy in southeastern Illinois and the Bellevue, Wash.-based Second Amendment Foundation.

They argue Illinois' prohibition against concealed weapons violates the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment and what they see as Americans' right to carry guns for self-defense.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office said she's reviewing the lawsuit.

On May 5 the state House voted down the bill to allow concealed guns. Illinois and Wisconsin are the only states that ban concealed weapons.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

Blagojevich Attorneys Cross-Examine Ex-Aide

Defense attorneys at Rod Blagojevich's corruption retrial tried to chip away at the testimony of a former aide to the ousted governor Thursday, hinting that Blagojevich never intended to personally benefit from his ability to name a replacement for President Barack Obama in the Senate.

Robert Greenlee, who served as deputy governor under Blagojevich, looked flustered at times as defense attorney Aaron Goldstein peppered him with questions including, "Have you ever lied to the governor?"

Blagojevich sat forward on his defense-table chair listening intently, sometimes shaking his head at Greenlee's answers. At least once, he leaned across the table and appeared to suggest a question Goldstein should ask Greenlee.

Judge James Zagel warned the defense lawyer that his inquiry about whether Greenlee had ever lied to Blagojevich was too broad and could cover Greenlee lying to the governor about whether he liked his tie, for example.

Greenlee is a key prosecution witness on several charges, including that Blagojevich tried to sell or trade Obama's old Senate seat and that he squeezed a Children's Memorial Hospital CEO for campaign cash.

The defense pressed Greenlee about his testimony that Blagojevich ordered him - by using the circuitous words, 'Good to know' - to hold up a pediatric care reimbursement until the hospital executive came up with a large campaign donation.

"You understood 'good to know' meant stop the rate increase?" Goldstein asked. "Did you ask for clarification?"

"I didn't believe I needed clarification," Greenlee said.

Mocking Greenlee's claim that he took Blagojevich's words as an order, Goldstein prompted an objection by asking, "Mr. Greenlee, you speak English, is that correct?"

Greenlee testified that Blagojevich discussed appointing Obama's preferred candidate to the Senate seat, Valerie Jarrett, in exchange for a high-paying, high-powered government or private-sector job.

Once Jarrett took a job in the White House instead, Greenlee said Blagojevich and his aides turned to other possible candidates - and considered what they could do for the governor.

The defense repeatedly asked Greenlee about Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and whether Blagojevich had actually wanted to forge a legal political deal involving her.

But Zagel agreed to prosecutors' objections whenever Goldstein mentioned Madigan, telling Blagojevich's attorney the questions were "out of bounds." He suggested the defense could broach the topic if and when they put on their own case.

The defense has argued that in the weeks before his December 2008 arrest, Blagojevich pursued a legal deal to name Madigan to the seat in exchange for her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, agreeing to push a legislative package favored by the then-governor.

Prosecutors say such talk by Blagojevich was merely a red herring and was never seriously considered.

Blagojevich denies any wrongdoing. His first trial ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one charge. He was convicted of lying to the FBI. This time, he faces 20 charges in all.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

Lawsuit Claims Vatican Covered Up Child Sex Abuse

The Vatican was named Wednesday in a lawsuit that claims the Holy See ultimately was responsible for covering up child sexual abuse by a now-imprisoned Chicago priest when church officials overlooked complaints about abuse and kept him in a position to continue molesting children.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago on behalf of a woman whose son was molested by Father Daniel McCormack, is an attempt to "hold those most responsible for the global problem and the problem in this community to account in a way they have never been," said St. Paul, Minn.-based attorney Jeff Anderson.

McCormack pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was parish priest at St. Agatha Catholic Church and a teacher at a Catholic school and was sentenced to five years in prison. In 2008, the Archdiocese of Chicago agreed to pay $12.6 million to 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests, including McCormack. As part of that settlement, Cardinal Francis George also agreed to release a lengthy deposition and apologize to the public and each victim.

Anderson said the Archdiocese also agreed to release documents involving priests who had been credibly accused of abuse, but "not one file has been effectively produced so we can produce it to the public" and believes it's because the Archdiocese is following orders from the Vatican. In 2009, a Cook County judge granted the Archdiocese a protective order keeping portions of files private.

Marc Pearlman, another attorney involved in Wednesday's lawsuit, said it's possible some plaintiffs would not have agreed to the 2008 settlement without the promise from the Archdiocese to release the files.

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese would not comment on Anderson's contention because it was not named in the suit.

The Vatican's U.S. attorney, Jeffrey Lena, referred questions about the documents to the Archdiocese but released a statement saying the lawsuit "is without any merit." He said the victim mentioned in the lawsuit had already received payment from the Archdiocese and "released all further claims" as part of the 2008 settlement.

Anderson said the settlement with Archdiocese did not specifically name the Vatican as a settling party.

This is not the first time Anderson has sued the Vatican. He also named the Holy See in cases filed in Wisconsin and Oregon. The Vatican has argued it is shielded from lawsuits as a sovereign nation, although Wednesday's lawsuit claims McCormack was a "direct agent" of the Vatican because he helped raise money for Peter's Pence, an annual collection for the Vatican.

Lena said the suit "rehashes the same tired theories already rejected by U.S. courts ... and importantly, the Holy See had no factual involvement in this matter whatsoever."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages but Anderson said its aim is "to require the Vatican to come clean" with the names of the offenders it knows about and the files kept on them.

"It is the men at the top who make decisions that require secrecy" from others in the Catholic Church, he said.

"Daniel McCormick is just one of many offenders who have been allowed to offend in secrecy," he said. "There won't be change at the bottom until there's change at the top."

Last month, the Vatican was served with court papers stemming from decades-old allegations of sexual abuse against a now-deceased priest at a Wisconsin school for the deaf. The lawsuit was filed last year in federal court on behalf of Terry Kohut, now of Chicago, claiming that Pope Benedict XVI and two other top Vatican officials knew about allegations of sexual abuse at St. John's School for the Deaf outside Milwaukee and called off internal punishment of the accused priest, the Rev. Lawrence Murphy.

Anderson also has a pending lawsuit against the Vatican in Oregon for a man who claims he was abused at his Catholic school in the 1960s.

Categories: Criminal Justice, Religion
Tags: crime, religion

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 11, 2011

At Retrial, Jurors Hear Blagojevich Curse Obama on Tape

Prosecutors are landing some crushing blows in quick succession in their retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

At 3:35 p.m. Tuesday, David Keahl took the stand. He oversees ethics training for state employees. Keahl said every year Blagojevich took the training which makes clear that it's illegal to even try to trade state action for personal benefits. That goes to one of Blagojevich's defenses that he didn't know he was committing any crimes because he was relying on his advisors, many of whom have law degrees, to keep him from doing anything illegal.

At 3:58, prosecutors played a tape of Blagojevich talking to advisors on a conference call. Blagojevich is cursing President-elect Obama because he won't give Blagojevich anything to appoint his preferred candidate to the Senate. "You guys are telling me I gotta just suck it up for two years and do nothing, give this motherf***** his Senator. F*** him. For nothing? F*** him!" said Blagojevich.

Blagojevich says the whole world is passing him by and he's, "stuck in this f***ing job as governor now." He goes on to complain that he needs to make money. "Amy's going to college in six years and we can't afford it. I can't afford college for my daughter," says Blagojevich.

At 4:07, before jurors could feel too sorry for the embattled former governor, prosecutors brought an IRS agent to the stand. She said the Blagojeviches brought in $300,000 a year but were in debt because they spent $400,000 on clothes during his time in office.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 09, 2011

Man Gets 28 years in Springfield Bomb Plot

A man accused of plotting to blow up a federal courthouse in Springfield has pleaded guilty.

Michael C. Finton was immediately sentenced today to serve 28 years in prison.

Finton, who is also known as "Talib Islam," was arrested in September 2009. Authorities said he repeatedly met with an undercover government operative he thought was a member of Al Qaida.

Finton parked a van loaded with fake explosives outside the federal courthouse and then made a cell phone call that he thought would trigger an explosion.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 09, 2011

Blagojevich Defense Walks a Fine Line in Cross Examination

This morning defense attorneys for Rod Blagojevich are expected to cross examine the first major witness in the former governor's retrial.

John Harris was Blagojevich's chief of staff and he spent three days on the stand last week testifying for prosecutors. He was caught on federal wiretaps advising Blagojevich on how to use a senate seat appointment to enrich himself.

Harris hoped Blagojevich could become a member of Obama's cabinet and in exchange Blagojevich would appoint anyone to the Senate that Obama wanted.

Harris is caught on one phone call talking to another Blagojevich adviser about their attempts to get that offer to Obama's people.

"We wanted our ask to be reasonable and rather than make it look like some sort of selfish grab for a quid pro quo," Harris said. "We had to lay the groundwork to show that we're going to be stuck in the mud here."

Harris was an attorney and he has pleaded guilty in the case and is cooperating with prosecutors.

In their cross examination, Blagojevich's defense team could point out that Harris came up with many of the illegal schemes himself but that would be an admission that the schemes were indeed illegal. Instead they will probably focus on the idea that it was all just talk and no crimes were ever committed.

(Photo by Robert Wildeboer/IPR)


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