Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2011

Credibility of Government’s Top Witness Questioned in Mumbai Terror Case

Defense attorneys for a Chicago businessman accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks are trying to undermine the credibility of an admitted terrorist who is serving as the government's star witness.

David Coleman Headley returns to the witness stand Tuesday to face questions from defense attorneys for Tahawwur Rana. He's accused of helping Headley, his longtime friend, lay the groundwork for the attacks that left more than 160 people dead in in India's largest city.

Headley has already pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Rana, who is accused of providing a cover as Headley conducted surveillance for the attacks.

Rana's attorneys say Headley's testimony isn't credible because he's lied in the past. They went after his credibility last week, and told a judge they're just getting started. Headley has already pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Rana, who is accused of providing a cover as Headley conducted surveillance for the attacks.

Rana's attorneys say Headley's testimony isn't credible because he's lied in the past. They went after his credibility last week, and told a judge they're just getting started.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2011

Rod Blagojevich Returns to the Stand

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is be back on the witness stand today trying to convince jurors that he is innocent. He spent about six hours in total on the stand last week.

He is still being questioned by his own attorney Aaron Goldstein. The questions give Blagojevich a chance to say that he never extorted anyone. Blagojevich says he never explicitly or implicitly threatened to withhold state action if they didn't give him campaign contributions.

He has told jurors that it's important for politicians to raise money because, "this is the system that we have in America."

He said the U.S. Supreme court has protected campaign contributions under the first amendment right to free speech. He has also told jurors that following fundraising laws can be delicate because of the nature of politics and he's explaining how he tried to follow the laws.

Prosecutors could spend days challenging Blagojevich's assertions after defense attorneys finish their questioning.

Blagojevich has so far only addressed about half of the allegations against him. The 54-year-old hasn't yet touched on the most serious accusation that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for a top job or campaign cash.

His attorneys have said Blagojevich most likely wouldn't delve into that explosive allegation until later this week.

He faces a total of 20 counts. He has denied any wrongdoing.

(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 27, 2011

Blago Trial Day 2: Friend’s ‘Meddling’ Caused Bill Delay

Impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich switched his focus Friday during his second day on the witnesses stand from describing himself as an everyday man to seemingly pointing the fingers at others.

A less-animated Blagojevich offered nitty-gritty, often laborious detail to jurors about the legislative process and the hardscrabble world of political fundraising. Gone were the hand gestures, emotion and long monologue about himself from the day before.

Blagojevich still did not get to most explosive allegations against him, that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.

His testimony Friday centered on allegations that he tried to shake down racetrack executive John Johnston for a $100,000 campaign contribution by withholding his signature on a bill that benefited the horse-racing industry.

The twice-elected governor conceded that he was eager to get a contribution from Johnston, but when his attorney asked if he was refusing to sign the bill as a way to squeeze Johnston for money, Blagojevich denied it.

"No, I was not," he said in a firm voice. "My intention was to follow the law ... and be careful not to cross any lines."

Blagojevich also told jurors that advance commitments from would-be donors - and urging would-be donors to follow through - was critical to enabling politicians to plan ahead for hard election fights.

"This is the system we have in America," he said. "I think it is an imperfect and flawed system."

The former government appeared to suggest that two of his close friends turned top advisers, Lon Monk and Chris Kelly, may have been at least partly to blame for the perception that Blagojevich seemed to be shaking down the executive.

His attorney asked Blagojevich to explain excerpts of an FBI wiretap recording, in which Monk tells Blagojevich about having just met Johnston, pressing him for money. Blagojevich several times noted that it was Monk, not him, who went to Johnston.

Later, he talked about his late friend Chris Kelly, offering suspicions that Kelly might have been "meddling" in the racetrack legislation himself as an explanation for why Blagojevich was so slow to sign the bill.

Kelly committed suicide in 2009, days before he was to report to prison to begin a term on tax and mail fraud convictions.

Though he didn't explain in detail, Blagojevich claimed that he believed Kelly might be trying to manipulate the racetrack bill somehow in an effort to curry favor with people with supposed connections to then-President George W. Bush. Kelly's aim, Blagojevich told jurors: To get someone to ask Bush to grant Kelly a pardon and keep him out of prison.

Blagojevich said that, and not any shakedown, was his reason for delay in signing the race-track bill.

"I don't want anyone to say I am signing the bill because I am part of some scheme with Chris," Blagojevich told jurors. "I was afraid if I sign the bill, this is what they might say."

As he did on Thursday in his first day of testimony, Blagojevich frequently veered off-topic. Judge James Zagel frequently intervened.

"See if you can answer a question yes or no," he told Blagojevich at one point.

Zagel sent jurors home for the Memorial Day holiday at around noon on Friday. Defense attorneys told Zagel that Blagojevich will be called to the stand again on Tuesday and that he could remain on the stand for the defense until Thursday.

(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 26, 2011

Blagojevich Recounts His Biography in Meandering Testimony

Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich told jurors Thursday about his life and blue collar roots while testifying at his corruption retrial in Chicago.

Introducing himself to jurors, he said, "I used to be your governor" and "I'm here today to tell you the truth."

The testimony has been mostly autobiographical, though at times Blagojevich has made obvious attempts to link this background to the federal charges he now faces.

He proceeded to talk about his upbringing in a working-class Chicago neighborhood. Blagojevich spoke in a low voice and remembered his first hit in little league baseball. Jurors watched him intently.

Blagojevich described his first jobs as a shoeshine boy and then working in a packing company. He talked about his father leaving home to work on the Alaskan pipeline. Blagojevich said he also worked on the pipeline, washing pots and pans.

Blagojevich's voice broke when he spoke about his deceased parents. He later choked up when he began to tell the story of how he met his wife, Patti. That prompted Judge James Zagel to send the jury out of the room, and call for a lunch break.

Earlier, Blagojevich addressed his days as an undergrad at Northwestern University. He told jurors that he often felt inferior compared to other students. But he said he got good grades, and was a history buff.

"I had a man crush on Alexander Hamilton," Blagojevich said.

In talking about Winston Churchill and how leaders made decisions, the ex-governor offered a preview of his defense to the corruption charges he faces, some of which are based off secretly taped phone calls with his aides.

Blagojevich said, like Churchill, he believes in "full discussion," that leaders "should be free" to bounce ideas off advisers, to "end up in the right place."

Later, talking about law school, Blagojevich said he applied to a number of top schools, including Harvard University. The rejection letter, he said, "came back pretty quick." Blagojevich eventually went to Pepperdine University in California. His first year, he said, was "almost catastrophic," because he wanted to read history books instead of law books.

Blagojevich attorney Aaron Goldstein asked him about his friendship with Lon Monk. Monk is a former Blagojevich aide who testified against him in exchange for a lighter sentence for himself.

Blagojevich said he met Monk while studying abroad in England during law school, and it developed into "a lifelong, very close friendship."

He talked about how different his upbringing and family were Monk's, whose father was a successful California obstetrician and gynecologist. Blagojevich said he "became very close" with Monk's family. He said they had a "beautiful house...with peacocks in the back yard."

"I love Lon Monk," Blagojevich said of his once-close friend. Asked if he trusted him, the ex-governor said, "Absolutely. Infinitely."

The ex-governor talked about how he worked as a paralegal for Ed Vrdolyak, at the time a lawyer and Chicago alderman.

"I didn't do a lot of law," Blagojevich said, noting that his job consisted of doing campaign work for, among others, then-Mayor Jane Byrne, and picking up cheesecakes for the alderman's driver.

Blagojevich said Vrdolyak later reneged on a promise to hire him, and again on a promise to get him a job with the Cook County State's Attorney's office. He was hired anyway, working in the office while Richard M. Daley was state's attorney.

"While he was my boss, I never saw him," said Blagojevich. He talked about his work in the traffic division, and later on domestic violence cases.

No doubt in an effort to make sure the jury knew he was not professionally familiar with the laws he is accused of breaking, Blagojevich attorney Aaron Goldstein asked the ex-governor a series of questions about his struggles to pass the bar exam, and his experience in private practice. Blagojevich testified that he never worked on any federal case, nonetheless one involving the fraud or extortion statutes.

Blagojevich's attorney cited his tendency for profanity. Blagojevich then apologized directly to jurors. He said when you hear the curses and swear words, "it makes you wince." Blagojevich called himself a jerk for swearing.

Once his own attorneys are done questioning him, Blagojevich is sure to face blistering cross-examination from the government. Prosecutors are likely to replay FBI wiretaps that captured his blunt talk.

Blagojevich's testimony comes on the heels of a terrible day in court for the defense Wednesday.

They called Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the stand. He testified for only four minutes. They also called Jesse Jackson Jr. who said he never offered Blagojevich money in return for being appointed to Barack Obama's old senate seat.

But under cross examination by prosecutors, Jackson offered up a whole new allegation of extortion. He says Blagojevich asked for a $25,000 dollar campaign contribution, but Jackson didn't pay. Later, Jackson's wife, Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, applied for, but was denied a job in the Blagojevich administration. At a subsequent meeting Jackson says the governor referred to the job, then snapped his fingers and pointed in an Elvis-like way and said, "You should have given me that $25,000."

Jurors wouldn't have heard this story if Blagojevich's lawyers hadn't called Jackson to the stand. The anecdote is like an additional criminal count against the former governor, compliments of his own defense team.

Blagojevich's attorneys didn't call any witnesses during his first trial last year. That jury deadlocked on 23 of 24 counts, including allegations that Blagojevich tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 25, 2011

Defense to Question Gov’t Witness in Mumbai Case

An admitted American terrorist who scouted sites in the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks is expected to face intense questioning from defense attorneys Wednesday when he returns to the stand as the government's star witness in the trial of a Chicago businessman accused of helping him.

David Coleman Headley's testimony has alleged close coordination between Pakistan's main intelligence agency and militants in the three-day rampage that killed more than 160 people in India's largest city.

Headley, who pleaded guilty in plotting the attacks, is the government's top witness in the trial of Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana. His testimony also comes at a pivotal moment in U.S.-Pakistan relations, just weeks after Navy SEALs found Osama bin Laden hiding outside Islamabad, raising concerns that Pakistan may have been protecting the world's most wanted terrorist.

Defense attorneys get their first chance to undermine Headley's credibility before jurors on Wednesday. Attorneys for Rana, who is accused of helping Headley establish cover in Mumbai and for another plot in Denmark, have called Headley manipulative and claimed he had other reasons in implicating Rana, his longtime friend.

"Some of the evidence that we expect to come in will show that David Headley absolutely had additional motives, including protecting his wife," Rana attorney Charles Swift told reporters this week. "There's written proof that she knew and there's not going to be that same proof where Dr. Rana's concerned."

Federal prosecutors have guided Headley through days of testimony where he provided rare insight into the web of international terrorism.

Pakistan has deflected the accusations and repeated what it's maintained since 2008: The Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as ISI, had no links to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani-based terrorists who claimed credit for the Mumbai attacks.

The ISI knew about and helped fund and direct the Mumbai plot, Headley said.

A "frogman" in Pakistan's military even helped select a landing site in Mumbai where Lashkar terrorists would arrive by boat, he testified. Headley recalled an instance a few years before the Mumbai plot conception when Lashkar leaders wanted to get signoff from the ISI before making a decision that could have diplomatic consequences with the U.S.

"They coordinated with each other, and ISI provided assistance to Lashkar," Headley said.

Headley, who said he started working with Lashkar in 2000, said the Pakistan-based terror group, and the ISI operate under the same umbrella. As Headley scouted sites for targets in Mumbai, he met regularly and received money from someone he said was an ISI major, known only as "Major Iqbal."

Iqbal and Headley's regular Lashkar contact, Sajid Mir, both gave him the same instructions for where to go and what to scope out, he said. Headley would provide videos he took of sights in Mumbai to Iqbal and then to Mir. Headley said Mir and Iqbal were in contact with each other. Headley has testified that Rana was apprised of all developments and largely approved.

In October 2008, Headley said he and his Lashkar and ISI handlers all met together in Pakistan, about a month before the attacks. During this meeting, the men also talked for the first time about a separate plot to attack a Danish newspaper that in 2005 had printed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, Headley said. That plot was foiled by law enforcement.

"I suggested we only focus on the cartoonist and the editor," Headley testified of a later meeting with Mir. "He said, 'All Danes are responsible for this.'"

Prosecutors showed emails among the three men - some of them forwarded to Rana - detailing points on the Mumbai attacks and the aftermath.

Defense attorneys have raised issues with Headley's credibility. He 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 heroin conviction.

Though Rana is on trial, much of Headley's testimony so far has focused on his dealings with Iqbal, Mir and Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, identified by prosecutors as a retired Pakistani military with links to Iqbal. All three are charged in absentia.

(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 25, 2011

Source: Blagojevich Witnesses to Include Emanuel, Jackson, Jr.

Rod Blagojevich's attorneys are set to begin their first defense of the former Illinois governor in his second trial on corruption charges.

A person familiar with the defense plans says new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. will be among the opening witnesses. The person spoke on condition of anonymity, citing not being authorized to speak publicly.

In the first trial last year, Blagojevich's attorneys rested without calling a single witness. The jury later deadlocked on 23 of the 24 counts against the former governor, including allegations that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat in exchange for campaign funds or a job for himself.

The defense attorneys say the two elected officials could help prove Blagojevich's actions weren't crimes.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 24, 2011

Emanuel Moves 500 Police Officers to High-Crime Areas

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is re-deploying 500 officers to police beats around the city, but some officials say the plan doesn't satisfy Emanuel's campaign promise to put 1,000 officers on the streets.

Emanuel said at a Tuesday news conference that he is putting 500 existing Chicago police officers on beats. He said that would help build relations with communities and eventually drop crime. The officers are already on the street, but don't necessarily have specific beats. Emanuel called it a down payment on his campaign promise to add 1,000 officers to beats.

"I can wait to find the resources, or I can basically say, 'Are we most efficient in applying our officers to where crime is,'" he said.

But Alderman LaTasha Thomas said she was expecting 1,000 new officers, not the re-deployment of officers already on the force.

"They're taking a step, but this is not the thousand to me," Thomas said.

The head of the police union, Michael Shields, said in a statement, "The department has taken hundreds of highly-skilled street officers and transformed them overnight into hundreds of highly-skilled beat officers. What's the difference?"

Emanuel said some of the cops will be deployed to high crime areas.

(Photo by Tony Arnold/IPR)

Categories: Criminal Justice, Politics
Tags: crime, politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 24, 2011

Headley Alleges More Pakistan Militants, ISI Links

The federal government's star witness at a Chicago terrorism trial revealed more potentially damaging details on Tuesday alleging close cooperation between a Pakistani militant group and the country's top intelligence agency, telling jurors that he frequently exchanged emails and met with members of both groups a month before the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

David Coleman Headley returned to the witnesses stand for a second day in the terrorism trial of a Chicago businessman accused of collaborating in the three-day siege of India's largest city - giving a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and how he was recruited by a member of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as ISI, to take part in the Mumbai plot.

Headley told jurors Tuesday that he met with both his handlers from Lashkar and ISI in Pakistan in October 2008 - one month before the Mumbai rampage that killed more than 160 people including six Americans - and his Lashkar contact, Sajid Mir, said militants had unsuccessfully tried to do the attack in September but crashed their boat leaving Pakistan. They also talked for the first time about a separate plot to attack a Danish newspaper that in 2005 had printed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, he said.

"I suggested we only focus on the cartoonist and the editor," Headley testified of a later meeting with Mir. "He said, `"All Danes are responsible for this.'"

As the government's first and main witness in the trial of his longtime friend Tahawwur Rana, Headley's testimony outlining links between the ISI and Lashkar could inflame tensions between Pakistan and India and place even more pressure on the already frayed U.S. and Pakistani relations.

It also could add to the questions about Pakistan's commitment to catch terrorists and the ISI's connections to Pakistan-based terror groups, especially after Osama bin Laden was found hiding out earlier this month in a military garrison town outside of Islamabad.

Headley pleaded guilty to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attacks that killed more than 160 people including six Americans, and he agreed to testify against Rana to avoid the death penalty, making him one of the most valuable U.S. government counterterrorism witnesses.

"Headley's testimony is a nail in the coffin of U.S.-Pakistani strategic cooperation," said Bruce Riedel, a former White House adviser on Middle Eastern and South Asian issues. "Until now his commentary has gotten very little attention outside India, now it will finally get the attention it deserves here."

The Pakistani government has denied the ISI orchestrated the Mumbai attacks, and a senior ISI official said Tuesday that the agency has no links to the terrorists behind the rampage. When asked about the testimony being heard in Chicago, the official said "it is nothing." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because his agency doesn't allow its operatives to be named in the media.

On Tuesday, Headley testified that details of planning for the attacks were known by an ISI officer known only by the alias "Major Iqbal" and Mir. Iqbal said a list would be provided to Headley of possible targets and later he would receive it from Mir. The three men met together in Pakistan in October 2008 where Mir told Headley about the failed attempt on Mumbai. The meetings continued.

"In a few weeks if everything went well, they were going to launch a second attempt," Headley testified.

Prosecutors showed emails between the three men - some of them forwarded to Rana - detailing points on the Mumbai attacks and the aftermath. They wrote in code from ever-changing email addresses including some that came from transliterated Urdu words into English and others from seemingly innocuous phrases like the email handle "Get Me Some Books," that Mir used at one time.

When the attacks happened, Headley, who was born Daood Gilani, testified that he got a text message from Mir asking him to turn on the television.

"I was pleased," he told jurors, but later he started to worry. "I was concerned if our plan had been leaked out."

At this time, Headley said, he was also in more frequent contact with Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, whom prosecutors identified as retired Pakistani military with links to Major Iqbal. Syed was referred to as "Pasha."

Rana, who attended medical school in Pakistan, was only brought up periodically throughout testimony, with Headley saying that he debriefed all his plans with Rana. He said they discussed the Mumbai attacks afterward and what they considered a successful mission against Indians.

"Dr. Rana said, `They deserved it,'" Headley said.

Rana, a Canadian citizen who has lived in Chicago for years, is accused of giving Headley cover during his time in Mumbai by allowing him to set up a branch of his Chicago-based immigration services business. His name is the seventh one on the federal indictment, and the only defendant in custody. Among the six others charged in absentia are Mir, Iqbal and Pasha.

Rana, who has pleaded not guilty, is also accused of helping arrange travel and other help for Headley, who planned the separate attack that never happened on the Danish newspaper. Defense attorneys have told jurors their client was taken advantage of by his friend and did not know what was in store. But prosecutors have said Rana was not duped and knew of the plans, both in Mumbai and Denmark.

Defense attorneys were expected scrutinize Headley's credibility as a witness, saying he has been motivated to change his story and that he was working for the U.S. government even as he said he was working for Lashkar and ISI.

(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 24, 2011

Champaign County Jail Inmate Dies, Officers Point to Suicide

Police in Champaign County are calling a death overnight at the county's correctional facility a suicide.

The sheriff's office says 24 year old Jesse Masengale had been sentenced on Monday to 30 years in prison for predatory criminal sexual assault on a child.

They say during a routine check, corrections officers at the county's satellite jail found Masengale inside a shower room inside an open dorm for non-problem jail inmates, hanging from a strip of fabric torn from a jail bedsheet. He was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Carle Hospital after officers tried to revive him.

Sheriff's officials say they're investigating Masengale's death but haven't found reason to believe anyone else was involved. They say a mental health interview conducted after his sentencing Monday found no concern of self-harm.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 24, 2011

Terrorist Back on the Stand in Chicago Trial

An admitted terrorist will be back on the stand Tuesday in a Chicago courtroom.

David Headley is the government's star witness in the terrorism trial of Chicagoan Tahawwur Rana, but Headley is a sketchy star witness. He has been convicted twice for bringing heroin into the U.S. and he seems unapologetic on the stand talking about his participation in the Mumbai terror attack that left more than 160 people dead.

Headley said Rana allowed him to pretend to be an employee of Rana's immigration business. Prosecutors say that allowed Headley to scope out potential terror targets in India with ease because he appeared to be a secular American businessman, rather than a Muslim Pakistani terrorist. Prosecutors say Rana never carried a gun or threw a grenade in the attack, but his support was critical to the success of the Mumbai plot.

Rana's attorneys told jurors they should not trust anything Headley has to say. Headley's cooperation with the government allows him to avoid the death penalty.

(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

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