Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Will Rod take the Fifth about Fifth Third?

Does the Rod Blagojevich family regard state government as its personal ATM?

There have been stories in this campaign about Rod's wife receiving questionable $113,000 commissions and his daughter getting a mysterious $1,500 check.

What about Rod's brother, Robert Blagojevich?

Once Rod became governor, Robert's employer, Fifth Third Bank, got a turbo boost in state business.

One of the biggest boons was a no-bid exclusive contract to provide ATM services at the newly redesigned tollway oases. That same pile of no-bid oases contracts already has been subpoenaed by the feds because of ties to Blagojevich's top fundraisers Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly through companies such as Subway and Panda Express. Another contract in that pile went to the official pizza of the NY Yankees, Famous Famiglia, a company with a corporate connection to convicted felon Eddie DeBartolo Jr. ABC 7's Chuck Goudie did a three-part series on the Famous Famiglia contract in early 2005.

Although I don't have the paperwork on it, the State Board of Investments also gave Fifth Third its first ever investment contract right about the same time Robert Blagojevich reportedly was leaving the company, in late 2003 or early 2004.

That contract was brought to the state board by the board's general consultant, Marquette Associates. That same firm was prominently mentioned in Milwaukee papers because bond house Bear Stearns executive Nick Hurtgen was publicly urging the Milwaukee County Board to hire Marquette and the board balked because it felt it opened the door to potential steering of pension business through a general consultant. Hurtgen, of course, has been indicted in Illinois in connection to the Health Facilities Planning Board scandal and was the top executive at Bear Stearns when the Blagojevich administration handed it the largest no-bid bond commission in state history, $10 million.

Here's the amount of state business that Fifth Third has done in the last several years, according to the state comptroller's office:

FY02 = $71,000

FY03 = $1.1 million

FY04 = $515,000

FY05 = $2.4 million

FY06 = $5.8 million

FY07's = $8.3 million (projection)

While nobody has uncovered any documentation that Robert Blagojevich was directly connected to any of the state business that occurred while his brother was governor, it would defy belief that Rod did not know that Fifth Third got these contracts while his brother was there. Did he try to influence those contracts directly or indirectly? And did Fifth Third directly or indirectly reward Robert Blagojevich for the increased state business?

Is this just another coincidence like the one where Chief of Staff Lon Monk's sister just happened to be a high-ranking official of a company that got a huge no-bid health care contract.

If the governor ever stops hiding behind his false and illegally funded campaign commercials, maybe he can answer a few questions about his brotherly love.

And maybe Chris Kelly can chime in, too. I'm told he knows something about at least one of the contracts.

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