Illinois Public Media News

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

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 03, 2011

Cars, Tenants Still Observed at Cherry Orchard

(Reported by Pam Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)

It's been six weeks since a Champaign County judge ordered the closure of an apartment complex between Rantoul and Thomasboro.

But public health officials say people continue to live there. Indeed, as of Thursday, there were several cars parked in front of a far east building, which had a new dumpster nearby and kids playing in the yard.

The first collection buildings in the complex, known as Cherry Orchard, looks empty from the main highway - County Road 1500 East. There appears to be no cars and no people.

In April, a Champaign County judge fined its managers, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos, more than $54,000 and ordered them to close down the property following a nearly four-year-old Champaign County Public Health Department case.

New painted words "For Sale" have replaced "Cherry Orchard" on a large, weathered wood sign. New phone numbers with the 202 area code have appeared. The property is listed for $1.3 million on this website. There is no longer a "for rent" sign.

The main entrance is blocked by an old telephone pole propping up a door turned on its side decorated by the word "Closed" in spray-paint. An electrical cord of some type serves as a make-shift rope between two trees that flank the main entrance.

By all appearances, from the corner of county roads 1500 East and 2700 North, the 11-acre, 68-unit apartment complex looks to be in compliance with the April court order.

A woman answered a call to one of the phone numbers listed on the sign, but pleasantly declined to give her name and said she would only discuss the details of the complex and its selling price with serious buyers. She said the complex was "empty, completely empty."

The Ramoses were accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six of their eight apartment buildings on the property. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.

The Health Department had sought to stop the Ramoses from renting out the property until the septic system could be legally fixed.

Bernard and Eduardo Ramos have repeatedly declined to comment for any news stories about the complex - including not returning calls seeking comment and posting signs warning "media dogs" to stay away. After April's ruling, the pair flashed a sign at reporters that read "slander- lying" as they left the courtroom.

The Ramos incurred more legal troubles when they failed to show up for a status hearing in May, after reports that the complex had yet to be closed and tenants remained. They notified the state's attorney's office prior to the hearing to report that they were on an extended trip to Texas.

At the May hearing, Judge John Kennedy issued a civil contempt warrant and a criminal contempt warrant for both Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo. The arrest warrants each include a $10,000 bond. If arrested, the judge requires that the Ramoses post the full amount - a total of $20,000 each - rather than the typical 10 percent before they can be released.

Soon after, the complex appeared to have been closed down.

But health officials who regularly spot-check the complex have found people living there, and neighbors have reported to health officials that men are working on apartments during the day as well and that residents remain in the buildings.

A visit to the area on Thursday morning showed the same.

While the main entrance to the complex is closed, a second driveway - accessible further down County Road 2700 North - leads right to the far east building (noted as number 5 on the map below).

There appeared to be a work van and four or five cars parked in front of the complex.

There were also children playing out front.

Neighbors have also reported that new air conditioners have been installed in the windows and a new dumpster was placed nearby.

Health Department officials do not have the authority to physically remove anyone from the complex; however, they remain concerned about the safety and health of residents who continue to live there due to the conditions of the complex.

Health officials are also concerned that the Ramoses are preparing the place for additional tenants - migrant workers who typically move to the area during this time of year, said Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde.

As of Friday, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos have yet to be arrested on the outstanding warrants for contempt of court.

The County Board of Health plans to meet next week with officials from the county to see what options they can legally pursue to ensure that the apartment complex is vacated and the illegal discharge of sewage ends, Pryde said.

(Photo by A. H. Gorton of CU-CitizenAccess)

Recent Photos Taken of the Cherry Orchard Apartment Complex:


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2011

Prosecutors Begin Blagojevich Cross-Examination

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

The prosecution has begun an aggressive cross-examination of Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich at the ousted Illinois governor's corruption retrial.

Prosecutor Reid Schar asked Blagojevich if he was a convicted liar. Blagojevich answered yes.

Prosecutors likely relished the chance to grill Blagojevich. At his first trial last year - in which he was convicted of lying to the FBI - the ousted governor never took the stand and prosecutors never had a chance to cross-examine him.

During five days of questions from his own attorney, Blagojevich denied all the allegations against him, including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.

Earlier, Blagojevich tried to carefully explain conversations he had with his advisers in late 2008 about various ways he could leverage his power to appoint a U.S. senator.

The conversations were secretly recorded by the FBI, and the jury in Blagojevich's federal corruption trial has already heard them.

At one point, Blagojevich is heard talking with members of his inner circle about his desire to be appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services by President Barack Obama.

"If [HHS] was available to me, I could [appoint Obama friend] Valerie Jarrett in a heartbeat," Blagojevich said on the call.

Asked on Thursday morning by his attorney, Aaron Goldstein, to explain that statement, Blagojevich analogized it to saying, "If I could play center field for the Cubs, I would do that in a heartbeat, too."

Blagojevich testified he understood the cabinet appointment was not going to happen. He said that's because, in part, one of his friends and closest political supporters, the SEIU's Tom Balanoff, told him it was not a possibility.

Why, then, was Blagojevich still talking about the idea on wiretapped conversations with his advisers?

"It goes to one of my insecurities," he explained. "I was embarrassed by the flat out dismissal of the idea by [Balanoff]."

The ex-governor testified that he was "trying to not look too irrelevant to my staff."

Guided by Goldstein, Blagojevich reiterated that no actual deal was offered involving the cabinet job and a Jarrett appointment. He explained that no decision had been made.

Labor Union Gig

The testimony then moved on to another alleged scheme, that Blagojevich would appoint Jarrett if Obama was able to arrange for the governor to become a national coordinator for the labor advocacy group "Change to Win."

Blagojevich testified that such a job would put him in a position to "have my cake and eat it too." He said it would allow him to make money to help his family's finances, while being involved in an issue important to him, and allow for a possible - though admittedly unlikely - political comeback.

But once again, Blagojevich told jurors he wasn't sold on the idea and didn't try to make it happen.

"I never decided to do it," Blagojevich testified. "I ultimately didn't like the idea."

Non-Profit Advocacy Leader

Instead, Blagojevich said he started to focus on another idea he found "more appealing." He wanted to land a leading role at what would be a new non-profit that would advocate for children's healthcare.

At this point in his testimony, Blagojevich tried to further an underlying theme to his defense: that he was influenced by the words and assistance of his advisers.

Regarding the non-profit idea, Blagojevich said he talked to his top government lawyer, Bill Quinlan, "constantly and continuously" about how to form such a group.

Judge James Zagel has barred Blagojevich from employing an "advice of counsel" defense to the charges he faces. But he is allowed to state that informal advice from his staff contributed to his "state of mind." Blagojevich insists he was acting "in good faith."

Getting to Rahm

On one of the wiretapped phone calls, Blagojevich is heard chatting with his former aide, Doug Scofield, about the non-profit idea. They were trying to figure out the best way to get a message to then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, to see if he'd be willing to approach some big Obama donors to provide start-up cash for the advocacy group.

The ex-governor said he was being clear to Scofield that he didn't want there to be any commitments made to Emanuel, who at the time was the incoming White House chief of staff. They planned to ask John Wyma, an insider who was close to both Emanuel and Blagojevich, to be the emissary.

"I didn't want him to give the wrong impression that I was promising something I hadn't decided on," Blagojevich testified, referring, in part, to the U.S. Senate seat.

Blagojevich acknowledged he believed it would be "highly unlikely" for Emanuel to agree to help set up the advocacy group, but added, "Why not see if he'd be willing to help? You never know."

The ex-governor said he did not make the call personally, because he was "frankly being sensitive to Rahm."

The message apparently never got to Emanuel, who is now the mayor of Chicago. Testifying last week as a witness for the defense, Emanuel said he was never approached about a potential deal involving the Senate seat, and an advocacy group.

More Emanuel Contact

Earlier on Thursday, Blagojevich testified he talked, directly, to Emanuel three times about the Senate appointment.

The ex-governor said he raised the idea of appointing Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate, in exchange for some sort of possible legislative deal with her father, House Speaker Mike Madigan.

Blagojevich said he believed Emanuel was "pleasantly surprised" that the governor was considering a Madigan appointment.

"[Emanuel's] a sensible guy and understood the politics as well as the good things that could be done," Blagojevich said on the stand.

Madigan "Mega Deal"

Blagojevich testified that "throughout the entire period, [Lisa Madigan] was always on my mind" as a Senate pick.

Blagojevich referred to a possible deal involving the Madigans as the "mega deal." He said he directed his deputy governor, Bob Greenlee, to prepare a document containing a legislative wish list that could be presented to Speaker Madigan.

"I love that document," Blagojevich said, noting it included an expansion of state-funded healthcare, passage of a statewide construction bill, and a written promise from Madigan that he would seek no sales or income tax increases.

"I couldn't get any of it done without Michael Madigan unless I found creative ways around him," Blagojevich testified. "But we needed him to do this."

Describing other items on the document, including climate change and poverty reduction initiatives, Blagojevich was warned by Judge James Zagel to read the list "without your campaign speech."

And he would have help making the deal, Blagojevich said. The governor said he had conversations about it with a number of U.S. Senate Democrats, including Nevada's Harry Reid, Illinois' Dick Durbin and New Jersey's Robert Menendez. He said they wanted Lisa Madigan to be appointed, and it was his hope that - should he choose to go through with the deal - "they would be the ones to broker [and] negotiate" it.

Blagojevich has yet to be cross-examined by prosecutors. But they are likely to point out, as they often have, that there was, in fact, no Madigan "deal," because the Madigans were not approached about it.

The former governor and his attorney tried to stay one step ahead of that argument. Blagojevich testified he was trying to "line up everyone I could [in support of the deal] before [making] the ask."

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2011

Blagojevich Starting to Crumble on the Stand

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

For much of his time on the stand in his corruption retrial, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been engaging, articulate, funny and most importantly, believable, but that's changing, and on Wednesday he was struggling to explain his own words to jurors.

His attorney, Aaron Goldstein, started leading him through some of the more damning evidence related to appointing a senator to replace Barack Obama. Even with his lawyer's softball questions, Blagojevich was flustered.

On one tape, Blagojevich talks about Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to Obama. Blagojevich says Jarrett knows that he's willing to appoint her to the Senate. He wonders how much she wants the position and how hard she'll push to get Blagojevich an appointment to Obama's cabinet.

Blagojevich insists the two weren't connected. Goldstein asked what Blagojevich meant when he talked about this. Instead of answering, Blagojevich reread the transcript while mumbling and finally said "I don't know what I'm saying here," and then asked his attorney to help him.

The ousted Illinois governor is expected to testify further Thursday about the allegation that he sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.

The 54-year-old faces 20 criminal counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery. He denies all wrongdoing.

(Robert Wildeboer/IPR)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2011

Mumbai Terror Trial in Chicago Winding Down

The trial of a Chicago businessman accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks is winding down faster than expected.

Judge Harry Leinenweber says closing arguments are planned for Tuesday.

Proceedings in Tahawwur Rana's terrorism trial ended Wednesday after prosecutors called seven witnesses.

They included FBI agents who verified communication between Rana, the government's star witness David Coleman Headley and others.

Jurors don't return to court until Monday because attorneys had trouble scheduling witnesses. The trial runs a four-day schedule.

Headley pleaded guilty to scouting sites for the attacks and agreed to testify against Rana.

Rana has pleaded not guilty to providing Headley with cover as he took video surveillance in Mumbai.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

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