Monday, April 9, 2007

The Patti pipeline

Reporters and federal prosecutors are looking closely at the personal finances of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and one category they are keenly interested in is the real estate commissions of his wife Patti.

This weekend, reporters from the Zell Tribune and Crain's found two more examples of Patti making money or about to make money from campaign contributors of her husband.

Notwithstanding the Governor's infantile attempt last year to diminish this line of inquiry by calling reporters "Neanderthal" and "sexist," the key questions are these:

1. How are these insiders finding Patti, a licensed real estate broker, for this work? Is there someone in the Blagojevich circle who is steering work her way? It appeared obvious from previous reports that Tony Rezko was that conduit a few years ago, but now that he's been indicted, who has taken his place? Or, more ominously, is the Governor doing it?

2. Is Patti doing any work for these commissions? Phantom commissions are one of the most common forms of corruption in Illinois and have resulted in previous indictments.

It's possible, of course, that Patti's real estate deals are lawful. Even if they are, it sends a stunning message that insiders who are subject to state regulation or who are seeking state contracts can in effect deposit money in the Governor's family checkbook by giving Patti real estate work. Sounds positively George Ryan-esque to me. A reform group spokeswoman was polite about it:

"The Blagojevich campaign fund and the clients of River Realty often seem to be intertwined, and that raises questions that should be scrutinized," says Cynthia Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a public interest group. "Whether people turn to that firm because they think it may be to their advantage in other matters, we don't know."
One puzzling aspect of the Crain's story was the timing—Patti currently is listing a property for the family member of a campaign contributor. The other examples were prior to last summer's bombshell story by the Tribune that a $1,500 check was given to one of the Blagojevich's daughter a few days after the check writer's wife obtained a state job by bypassing certain hiring rules. At that time, the Tribune made it clear in several stories that the feds were looking into the family's finances.

So you'd think that Patti would try to stick to real estate work not tied to her husband's job, now that the feds' interest is known. The only logical explanation is that the Blagojevichs are grabbing what they can as insurance against the possibility the feds will freeze the campaign fund. At that point, Rod and Patti might have to dig into their pockets for legal representation.

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