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Prosecutors to revise charges against Blagojevich

An amended indictment is planned because a case before the Supreme Court may affect the federal 'honest services' statute, under which the former Illinois governor is charged.

December 08, 2009|By Jeff Coen

Reporting from Chicago — Federal prosecutors plan to revise the charges against former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich next month to avoid possible delays in their case because of a looming Supreme Court decision on a well-used public corruption law, the U.S. attorney's office said Monday.

The high court is expected to hear oral arguments today on limiting the "honest services" fraud law, which criminalizes "a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services."

The law has been a mainstay of federal public corruption cases, and prosecutors are relying on it for several of the charges against Blagojevich, accusing him of illegally leveraging his position to benefit himself.

In a court filing Monday, prosecutors said they would bring a revised indictment against Blagojevich to avoid any potential delay of his scheduled June trial. Prosecutors said they would handle the honest services question in the new filing but plan to stick with the same basic allegations.

Among the charges is that the former governor tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama.

"At this time, it is anticipated that any new charges would be based on the underlying conduct that currently encompasses the pending charges," Assistant U.S. Atty. Reid J. Schar wrote in the court filing.

Blagojevich's defense had proposed postponing the trial to deal with a high court decision. U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel denied the request but asked the government for a written response. Schar wrote that, at most, some of the counts against Blagojevich would be dropped if the high court severely limited the use of the honest services law.

Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam Jr. criticized the government's announcement.

"It seems to me they ripped a sitting governor out of his home and said he had conducted a crime spree that they had to stop, and now they're saying there isn't going to be any 'honest services' and they're going to charge him with something different," Adam said. "Now we have to wait until January to find out what he really did?"

jcoen@tribune.com

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