Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 20, 2011

Indiana Secretary of State Says His Situation is ‘Tragic

Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White is expected to paint a picture of a man with a complicated personal life who was essentially without a home for nearly a year when he defends himself against voter fraud allegations during an Indiana Recount Commission hearing.

But White's tale of what he calls efforts to care for his son and respect the wishes of his then-fiancée may not hold sway with the commission, which is under a judge's order to decide whether he illegally voted in the May 2010 primary while registered at his ex-wife's address.

A ruling against White would invalidate his election and force his removal from office. He also could face jail time if convicted in a separate criminal case.

"I cannot believe I'm fighting for my life, my family, over something like this. It's tragic," White told The Associated Press during a Saturday interview at the Fishers condo he shares with his second wife, Michelle, and their children from previous marriages.

Tuesday's hearing comes a day after a federal judge denied White's request that his testimony before the Recount Commission be shielded from use in a separate criminal trial scheduled for August. White faces seven felony charges, including three counts of voter fraud. A conviction on any of the counts would be enough to remove him from office, and possibly put him in jail.

Judge Louis Rosenberg said there was no clear legal precedent for granting immunity if it had not been requested by prosecutors.

White has tried unsuccessfully to delay the commission hearing until after his criminal trial so he wouldn't risk incriminating himself.

The Indiana Democratic Party has pressed since September for a special investigation of White, arguing he was ineligible to run for secretary of state because he fraudulently registered to vote last year. The party contends White intentionally skirted the law to keep his seat on the Fishers Town Council after moving out of the district he represented.

Indiana law requires voters to have lived in their precinct for at least 30 days before the next general, municipal, or special election. White has previously acknowledged the voting error, chalking it up to his busy schedule and new marriage.

Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker called White's story of personal strife "a figment of Charlie's imagination."

"Tomorrow is judgment day and he cannot duck and dodge any more from the facts," Parker said Monday.

Dan Sigler, a special prosecutor for White's criminal case, said he was "shocked" that White was talking publicly at all. He declined further comment.

White's ex-wife, Nicole Mills, described White as essentially homeless for a year starting in May 2009.

"He was living out of his car. He literally had a lot of his clothes in his car. He ate out of his car. That's where most of his possessions were," Mills said.

White and Mills told the AP that the allegations against him ignore a complicated personal life in which White was trying to raise his now-10-year-old son, William, plan his second marriage and campaign for the job of the state's top elections official.

Mills said White left his apartment in May 2009 to save money for a new home. He reasoned, she said, that he spent most of his time on the road campaigning anyway.

Mills said she told White he could stay at her house in the meantime, which would allow him to see William more. Mills said she gave him full access to her home and said he could have his mail sent there.

White bought the condo he now shares with second wife, Michelle, on the east side of Fishers in February 2010. She and her three children moved in first; he said he joined them after the two married on May 28, 2010, because she didn't want to live together until they were married.

Michelle White, who was present during the AP's interview with her husband, also said she asked that the two not live together before they were married.

In the meantime, White said, he spent more time on the road and at his ex-wife's house.

"I was over there more than I was here, because of her wishes, because of Michelle's wishes," White said.

White said he voted twice during that period - in a November 2009 school funding referendum and again in the May primary.

He claimed he asked an election official to change his address to his ex-wife's house in November 2009 because that was the nearest thing he had to a regular home at that point.

He said he later discovered that the paperwork to change his voter registration had not been filed, so he filed the paperwork himself in February 2010. He completed the purchase of his condo a few days later.

White voted in the May 2010 primary using Mills' address. A month later, he formally filed to run for secretary of state and listed his residence as the new condo. But he said he still listed his ex-wife's house as his mailing address because that's where most of his mail had been going.

In September 2010, Fishers Democratic attorney Greg Purvis publicly accused White of voter fraud. A Hamilton County grand jury indicted him this March.

White has resisted calls to step down while the criminal case is pending. The Republican-led Indiana Recount Commission, which initially dismissed Democrats' challenge to White's candidacy, was ordered by a Marion County judge in April to rehear the case.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 13, 2011

Jury Continues Deliberating in Blagojevich Corruption Retrial

Jurors are set to continue deliberating on Monday in the retrial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

They have about six weeks of testimony to go through.

For much of the trial jurors were studiously taking notes, and now they may want to thoroughly review those notes before making any decision. Prosecutors and defense attorneys also asked jurors to go through the dozens of secretly recorded phone calls in chronological order.

Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton told jurors to focus on the most damning calls to hear that Blagojevich wanted to get personal benefits for himself in exchange for state action. Hamilton said they can see Blagojevich's M.O. in those calls and then apply that mindset to other charged schemes where the evidence isn't so clear.

Blagojevich's attorneys say jurors should look at the weak charges and see that Blagojevich has no criminal intent, and then apply that mindset to charges where he appears to be trading state action for personal benefit.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 10, 2011

Jurors at Blagojevich Retrial Begin Deliberating

Jurors at the retrial of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have begun deliberating.

Judge James Zagel told lawyers during a hearing on Friday that he was giving jurors copies of jury instructions so they could start. Closing arguments wrapped up Thursday.

The judge also told attorneys he couldn't guess how long the jury might take to reach a decision.

At the first trial, jurors took two weeks and then deadlocked on all but one charge.

There are 20 counts against the former governor at the second trial.

Even before jurors can get into the nitty-gritty of the charges, they have other business to finish. That would include electing a foreman and organizing the hundreds of notebooks they likely filled during six weeks of testimony.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 09, 2011

Corruption Case Against Blagojevich Goes to Jury

The political corruption case against ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is now in the hands of jurors again.

For the second time, a jury will try to reach a verdict on corruption charges. They include allegations that Blagojevich sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat and tried to shake down executives by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses.

Jurors heard the prosecution describe Blagojevich as an audacious schemer who lied to their faces on the witness stand. The defense countered that the government only showed that Blagojevich talks a lot.

"He didn't get a dime, a nickel, a penny . . . nothing," defense attorney Aaron Goldstein shouted just feet from the jury box. Turning to point at Blagojevich, Goldstein added that the trial "isn't about anything but nothing."

At one point during Goldstein's more than two-hour closing, Blagojevich's wife, Patti, began to sob on a courtroom bench, wiping tears from her cheek.

Pacing the crowded courtroom and sometimes pounding his fist on a lectern, Goldstein echoed what Blagojevich said during seven days on the stand - that his conversations captured on FBI wiretap recordings were mere brainstorming.

"You heard a man thinking out loud, on and on and on," he said. "He likes to talk, and he does talk, and that's him. And that's all you heard."

"They want you to believe his talk is a crime - it's not," Goldstein added, casting a look at three prosecutors sitting nearby.

Lead prosecutor Reid Schar balked at that argument, telling jurors in his rebuttal - the last word to jurors - that Blagojevich went way beyond talk.

"He made decisions over and over, and took actions over and over," he said.

He also mocked Blagojevich for testifying that he didn't mean his apparent comments on wiretaps about pressuring businessmen for cash or other favors.

"There's one person, this guy," Schar said, indicating Blagojevich, "whose words don't mean what they mean."

Blagojevich, 54, is accused of seeking to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat and trying to shake down executives by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses.

Blagojevich did not take the stand in his first trial last year, which ended with a hung jury. That panel agreed on just a single count - that he lied to the FBI about how involved he was in fundraising as governor.

Goldstein also took issue with prosecutors likening Blagojevich to a corrupt traffic cop tapping on drivers' windows to demand bribes to rip up speeding tickets.

"The hypothetical makes no sense," he said. A police officer can't ever ask for cash, but "a politician has a right to ask for campaign contributions."

Jurors sat rapt as Goldstein whispered, yelled and moved around the room, but appeared to take fewer notes compared to when the prosecutor spoke.

Blagojevich appeared glum as a prosecutor spoke, picking constantly at his fingernails. He perked up and nodded in agreement at his own attorney.

As he entered the courthouse earlier, a fan shouted at him, "I love you." Blagojevich beamed and walked over to give her a kiss on the cheek. He joked with an aspiring attorney nearby, "I'm going to hire you for my next case."

Goldstein applauded Blagojevich for testifying, saying "it took courage to walk up there" to the witness stand.

"A man charged does not have to prove a thing," Goldstein said. "That man did not have to go up there, did not have to testify."

In contrast, he said many of the government witnesses had agreed to testify under the threat of prosecution or longer prison sentences.

For her part, prosecutor Carrie Hamilton tried to assume the role of professor and jurors' best friend - speaking in simple terms as she went through each charge and clicking on a mouse to display explanatory charts, complete with bullet points and arrows.

Hamilton said that despite Blagojevich's denials, the evidence - including the FBI recordings - proves he used his power as governor to benefit himself.

"What he is saying to you now is not borne out anywhere on the recordings that you have," Hamilton said, urging jurors to listen to the wiretaps.

"There's one person in the middle of it - the defendant," she said, pointing at Blagojevich. "What you hear is a sophisticated man ... trying to get things for himself."

Hamilton told jurors Blagojevich could remember intricate details of his life but not whether he did or didn't do something related to an alleged scheme.

"He suddenly has amnesia on things that hurt him," she said.

After jurors at the first trial said prosecutors' case was too hard to follow, they sharply streamlined it. Prosecutors called about 15 witnesses this time - about half the number from last time. They also asked them fewer questions and rarely strayed onto topics not directly related to the charges.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 09, 2011

Chicago Man Convicted in Plot Against Danish Paper

A federal jury convicted a Chicago businessman on Thursday of helping plot an attack against a Danish newspaper that had printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad but cleared him of the most serious charge that accused him of cooperating in the deadly 2008 rampage in Mumbai.

The jury reached its verdict after two days of deliberations, finding Tahawwur Rana guilty of providing material support to terrorism in Denmark and to the Pakistani militant group that had claimed responsibility for the three-day siege in India's largest city that left more than 160 people dead, including six Americans.

The jurors, who were not identified in court, declined to talk to the media to explain their split verdict. Though the jury found him not guilty of the most serious accusation, Rana still faces up to 30 years in prison on the other two charges.

"We're extremely disappointed. We think they got it wrong," defense attorney Patrick Blegen told reporters.

At the center of the trial was testimony by the government's star witness, David Coleman Headley, Rana's longtime friend who had previously pleaded guilty to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attacks and helping plot the attack against the Danish paper. That attack was never carried out.

Rana, who did not testify, was on trial for allegedly allowing Headley to open a branch of his Chicago-based immigration law services business in Mumbai as a cover story while Headley conducted surveillance ahead of the November 2008 attacks. He was also accused of letting Headley travel as a representative of the company in Copenhagen.

The trial was highly anticipated because of Headley's testimony. His five days on the stand provided a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which took credit for the Mumbai attacks, and the alleged cooperation with Pakistan's top intelligence agency known by the ISI. The trial started 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.

Pakistani officials have denied the allegations and maintained that it did not know about bin Laden or help plan the Mumbai attacks.

During his testimony, Headley described how he said he took orders both from an ISI member known only as "Major Iqbal" and his Lashkar handler Sajid Mir. Through emails, recorded phone conversations and his testimony, he detailed how he met with both men - sometimes together - and then communicated all development's to Rana.

Rana's defense attorneys spent much of the time trying to discredit Headley who they say duped his longtime friend. They attacked Headley's character saying how he initially lied to the FBI as he cooperated, lied to a judge and even lied to his own family. They claim he implicated Rana in the plot because he wanted to make a deal with prosecutors, something he'd learned after he became an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration after two heroin convictions.

Headley's cooperation means he avoids the death penalty and extradition.

After the verdict was read, one of Rana's attorneys approached his wife and said "I'm sorry," then huddled with her in conversation. A day earlier, Rana's wife, Samraz Rana, told The Associated Press that Headley and her husband were not as close as prosecutors had portrayed during the trial.

While much of Headley's testimony had been heard before - both through the indictment and a report released by the Indian government last year - he did reveal a few new details. Among them was that another militant leader Ilyas Kashmiri, who U.S. officials believed to be al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan, had plotted to attack U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Kashmiri was reported killed on June 3 by U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan. While U.S. officials haven't confirmed the death, Pakistani officials say they're certain Kashmiri is dead.

Headley testified that he began working with Kashmiri to plan the attack on a Danish newspaper that in 2005 printed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, which angered many Muslims because pictures of the prophet are prohibited in Islam.

The trial was also the public's first chance to get a glimpse of the admitted terrorist who in a voice so soft attorneys had to repeatedly ask him to speak up while he detailed how he posed as a tourist while he took hours of video surveillance ahead of the attacks on India's largest city. Mir, Iqbal and Kashmiri were charged in absentia, along with three others, in the case. Rana was the only defendant on trial.

(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime, media

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 09, 2011

Copper Thieves Have Been At Work Lately in C-U, on UI Campus

A rash of copper thefts in the area is spreading into the University of Illinois campus.

A top officer in the U of I police department says thefts of copper downspouts from campus buildings have taken place in the past, but there have been five reported thefts in the past five days. Two weeks ago, an area recycler reported that more than a ton of copper scrap had been stolen from its lot.

Lieutenant Roy Acree says scrap dealers have been asked to help identify any suspects.

"They've been working really well with us so far, and hopefully we'll be able to, with the extra patrols that we're doing so far and by working with the steel people in town, we'll be able to come up with a suspect or suspects," Acree said.

Acree says copper prices are rising, but he thinks general economic conditions are prompting some people to steal metal to make ends meet. He also believes the most recent thefts could be tied to one or two groups, though he says the groups might not be cooperating with each other.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2011

Closing Arguments Begin in Blagojevich Retrial

Prosecutors began making their final arguments to jurors Wednesday at the corruption retrial of Rod Blagojevich, after presenting a streamlined case in which they tried to portray the ousted Illinois governor as a serial liar.

Government attorney Carrie Hamilton told jurors that Blagojevich took an oath to fulfill his duties as governor.

"What you have learned in court at this trial is that time and time again, the defendant violated that oath," Hamilton said. "He used his powers as governor to get things for him."

Attorneys for Blagojevich had rested their case earlier in the day after calling defense witnesses that included a former congressman, a former state budget office employee and an FBI agent. Prosecutors then called rebuttal witnesses including two Canadian building executives and two FBI agents.

Jurors could start deliberating as soon as Thursday afternoon, depending on the length of closing arguments by both sides.

In their three-week case, prosecutors called about 15 witnesses and played FBI wiretaps of Blagojevich. They sought to prove charges including that he attempted to shake down executives for cash by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses, and that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat.

Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery.

Prosecutors told jurors that Blagojevich is heard, over and over, scheming to profit from his decisions as governor. They have argued that such talk itself is a crime, and the fact that his schemes failed doesn't change the fact they were illegal.

In the retrial, the prosecution called around half the witnesses as in the first trial last year. Prosecutors asked witnesses fewer questions and rarely strayed onto topics not directly related to the charges. Unlike the first go-around, the prosecution barely touched on Blagojevich's lavish shopping or his lax, sometimes odd working habits.

Blagojevich's first trial ended with a hung jury, with the panel agreeing on a single count - that he lied to the FBI about how involved he was in fundraising as governor. Before the initial trial, Blagojevich repeatedly insisted he would speak directly to jurors, but he never did. His lawyers rested without calling a single witness.

The impeached governor was the star witness of the three-week defense presentation this time. Under a grueling cross-examination, Blagojevich occasionally became flustered, but he repeatedly denied trying to sell or trade the Senate seat or attempting to shake down executives.

In often long-winded answers, Blagojevich argued that his talk captured on FBI wiretaps was merely brainstorming, and that he never took the schemes seriously or decided to carry them out. And though the judge barred such arguments, Blagojevich claimed he'd believed his conversations were legal and part of common political discourse.

Defense attorneys had also called Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. In several motions, they've also accused the government of thwarting them, including by repeatedly objecting to their questions during cross-examination.

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 07, 2011

Blagojevich Testimony Entering Final Stages

The judge in ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's retrial says he expects the jury to begin deliberating Thursday.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel made the comment shortly after Blagojevich ended his testimony on Tuesday.

Zagel says the defense plans to call two more witnesses Wednesday, when the government could be ready to present its closing arguments.

The judge says jurors could start to deliberate Thursday after the defense finishes their closing.

The testimony stage of the retrial has lasted six weeks.

The government presented a streamlined, three-week case and called 15 witnesses.

The defense called three witnesses over three weeks. Blagojevich was on for most of that time. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. also took the stand for the defense.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Blago: Emanuel Raised Issue of Congressional Seat

Rod Blagojevich says Rahm Emanuel raised the issue of having then-Gov. Blagojevich appoint a successor to Emanuel's congressional seat in 2008 when Emanuel became White House chief of staff.

Blagojevich says his staff told him the move would be unconstitutional. Normally, a special election is held for a congressional vacancy.

Blagojevich is testifying for a sixth day at his corruption retrial.

Prosecutor Reid Schar (shahr) introduced the issue of the congressional seat. He asked whether Emanuel had approached Blagojevich about making an appointment. Blagojevich agreed the purpose would be to give the appointee an advantage in a special election.

Blagojevich said he was told by his lawyers and political consultant that such an appointment would be unconstitutional.

A spokesperson for Emanuel, now Chicago's mayor, could not immediately be reached for comment.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Federal Prosecutors Rest in Mumbai Terror Trial

The federal government has rested its case in the trial of a Chicago businessman accused in the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Prosecutors rested Monday after calling the last of eight total witnesses in the case against Tahawwur Rana. Rana has pleaded not guilty to providing a cover story for David Headley, an admitted Pakistani-American terrorist who conducted surveillance ahead of the attacks that killed more than 160.

Rana's defense attorneys now begin their case and say they'll call witnesses a including a computer expert. Rana isn't expected to testify.

Headley has pleaded guilty and was the government's star witness. He testified how he took orders from Pakistani intelligence and a militant group as he took video surveillance.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

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