Friday, May 4, 2007

Mystery deepens on Blago family income

Rod Blagojevich's newly filed state "economic interest" statement strongly suggests that he has a deep and growing problem with the federal investigation into his personal finances.

The story was first broken by the Daily Herald's Eric Krol on Thursday and advanced today by AP's John O'Connor.

Just like George Ryan, the indicted governor before him, Blagojevich continues to add and modify names to the disclosure form, which requires an annual accounting of gift givers and family income.

Rod says in his new disclosure that for the first time, in 2006, he received a gift of at least $500 from campaign contributors Amrish and Anita Mahajan. The wife was indicted last month by a Cook County grand jury for billing the state $2.1 million for work her drug firm did not perform. Previous press reports have revealed that the Mahajans also were involved in real estate deals that netted $113,000 in broker commissions for Patti Blagojevich, Rod's wife.

When asked what the gift was, Rod's spokeswoman refused to say, other than telling the Daily Herald it was for "food." Although there is no legal requirement to reveal the exact nature of the gifts of $500 or more, previous governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar did so. George Ryan and Rod both refuse. Draw your own conclusions there.

Of course Rod's "gifts" first burst onto the news scene last year when he amended a previous year's disclosure form one month after being interviewed by the feds. He added the names of friends Beverly and Mike Ascaridis. In September 2006 the Chicago Tribune revealed that the Ascaridis' had written Rod and Patti's seven-year-old daughter a mysterious $1,500 check in 2003 just days after Beverly Ascaridis got a state job under possibly illegal circumstances. That matter is under federal investigation.

Previous stories have stated that the Blagojevichs have known the Amrishs since 2001 so it will be interesting to see if the governor amends previous years' statements to reflect previous gifts or just says the gift giving started in 2006.

Another change in the statement from previous years might be even more ominous for the Blagojevichs. On a question about family income, the Blagojevichs added a new firm in 2006, Appraisal Research Counselors, Chicago, as a source of Patti's income. In the AP story, the administration concedes that the couple failed to declare the income previously and would amend previous state forms since he became governor in 2003.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said the first lady is a real estate appraiser and has worked for the company "on a limited basis" since 1999. Past ethics statements will be updated to show her previous payments, Ottenhoff said.
This is a big admission. The administration's claim that it is just erring on the side of caution is hollow because it said the same thing about some of the previous gift amendments. It suggests strongly that something has emerged in the federal investigation that revealed the income. Here's the state disclosure question, which is not confusing:
List the name of any entity doing business in the State of Illinois from which income in excess of $1,200 was derived during the preceding calendar year other than for professional services and the title or description of any position held in that entity. (In the case of real estate, location thereof shall be listed by street address, or if none, then by legal description.) No time or demand deposit in a financial institution nor any debt instrument need to be listed.
These are important clues to where the feds are going and not likely to be innocent little accounting mistakes as the Blagojevichs are contending. The governor should clear the air on this. Every one of his wife's real estate clients, it appears, are contributors to her husband's campaign and recipients of state business. The smell from the NW side of Chicago is getting more pungent.

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