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Blagojevich indicted on 16 federal felony charges

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Blagojevich declines comment, says "I'm enjoying Disney World with my kids"
  • Blagojevich faces up to 20 years in prison for each of 15 most serious charges
  • Officials going after his home, saying he bought it with illegally-earned money
  • Charges against him include wire fraud, making false statements
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CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Impeached former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested in December on charges of conspiracy and fraud, was indicted Thursday on 16 felony counts by a federal grand jury, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is facing such charges as racketeering, conspiracy and wire fraud.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is facing such charges as racketeering, conspiracy and wire fraud.

The 19-count indictment charges Blagojevich and some of his closest aides and advisers with a wide-ranging "scheme to deprive the people of Illinois of honest government," according to a statement by the attorney's office.

Blagojevich, 52, faces charges including racketeering, conspiracy, wire fraud and making false statements to investigators, according to the release. Three counts in the indictment are against the aides and advisers.

In a written statement, Blagojevich maintained his innocence -- as he has done throughout a political soap opera that captivated the nation.

"I'm saddened and hurt but I am not surprised by the indictment," he said. "I am innocent. I now will fight in the courts to clear my name."

Blagojevich was vacationing with his family in Florida on Thursday. In video shot at a Disney resort outside Orlando, Florida, by CNN affiliate WESH-TV, he declined to comment on his legal situation. He was filmed shortly before the indictments were handed down.

In the WESH video, the ex-governor was sitting near a pool at the resort. "I'm enjoying Disney World with my kids and I don't think you're supposed to be here," said Blagojevich, after his wife attempted to shield him from the camera. "I'm happy to talk to you at the appropriate time."

A man who identified himself only as "someone who knows who he is" then blocked the camera.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said he hoped the former governor wouldn't use the announcement as a reason to hit the media circuit again.

"We can only hope the former governor will not view this indictment as a green light for another publicity tour," he said. "Rod Blagojevich deserves his day in court, but the people of Illinois deserve a break."

Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested in December on federal corruption charges alleging that, among other things, they conspired to sell President Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Harris and Blagojevich's brother, Robert Blagojevich, were among the others indicted on Thursday.

In early January, federal Judge James Holderman gave the attorney's office three additional months to decide whether to indict Blagojevich, who was impeached by the state legislature and removed from office. That deadline ends Tuesday.

On Thursday, current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn called the charges a reminder for political leaders in the state to help stamp out corruption, and he pledged to "work night and day to clean up our government."

"Today, more than ever, I'm committed to making sure our government has fundamental reform from top to bottom," said Quinn, also a Democrat and the former lieutenant governor who was appointed governor in January. "We need to overhaul Illinois government to make sure everything is done right for the people."

The charges are part of what investigators have dubbed "Operation Board Games," an ongoing investigation into political corruption in the state.

Among the specific claims in the 75-page indictment are that Blagojevich schemed with others in 2002, even before he took office, to use his position to make money, which they would split after he left office.

Blagojevich is accused of denying state business to companies that would not hire his wife, extorting campaign contributions from a children's hospital that was set to get state money and pressuring a racetrack executive to give political contributions before the governor signed a gambling bill.

The indictment said that after Obama was elected president, Blagojevich began meeting with others to figure out a way he could make money from his position to appoint a replacement senator.

It said Blagojevich asked others, including state employees, to contact people who may be interested in the seat, and that he believed an associate of someone referred to in the indictment as "Senate Candidate A" had offered $1.5 million in campaign contributions in exchange for the appointment.

He had asked his brother to meet with an associate of "Senate Candidate A" and say that some of those contributions needed to come through before he made the appointment, but the meeting was canceled after a newspaper article reported that Blagojevich had been recorded talking about selling the seat.

A lengthy FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps trying to profit from the Senate vacancy.

The indictment said that Blagojevich communicated "directly and with the assistance of others" with people he believed were in contact with Obama, trying to gain political favor by possibly appointing someone the president-elect supported.

He ultimately appointed a former state comptroller and attorney general, Roland Burris, who was seated in the Senate despite protests from the chamber's Democratic leaders. Those leaders said a special election should be called because of the controversy over the appointment.

"The U.S. Attorney's indictment serves to confirm the public's long-standing distrust of former Gov. Blagojevich and his administration, and it underscores the culture of corruption that has afflicted our state for far too long," state Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a written statement. "While this is a terrible day in Illinois history, it is also a moment in which we can recognize an opportunity for real reform."

Thursday's charges supersede the ones filed in December.

The Illinois House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in January to impeach Blagojevich, accusing him of abusing his gubernatorial power.

Blagojevich faces up to 20 years in prison for each of the 15 most serious charges in the indictment, and five years on a single indictment of making false statements.

The government also charges that Blagojevich has bought property with money he got illegally, and is going after homes he owns in Chicago and Washington.

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"I would ask the good people of Illinois to wait for the trial and afford me the presumption of innocence that they would give to all their friends and neighbors," Blagojevich, who was vacationing with his family, said in the statement.

In addition to the Blagojevich brothers and Harris, also charged in the indictments were businessman and fundraiser Christopher Kelly, 50; lobbyist and longtime Blagojevich associate Alonzo Monk, 50; and William F. Cellini Sr., 74, another businessman who raised money for Blagojevich.

All About Rod BlagojevichIllinoisRoland Burris

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