State Seems Corrupt to the Core
(Peoria Journal Star Editorial)
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
It has become difficult to keep count of all the parties on trial in the Tony Rezko corruption case, though the latter is the only one in immediate jeopardy.
Certainly there is the governor, Rod Blagojevich, for whom Rezko was a fund-raiser, confidant and pal. Stuart Levine, the federal government's already convicted star witness, has said under oath that pay-to-play is the operative pattern in this administration, with him and Rezko, among others - Springfield-based power broker William Cellini is an "unindicted co-conspirator" - being among the primary benefactors. They demanded bribes from companies looking to do business with the state, packing regulatory boards - through the governor whose ear they had - with their accomplices, Levine testified.
"Stick with us and you will do very well for yourself," Levine recalls a Blagojevich he perceived as his meal ticket telling him.
The governor, through spokespeople, has denied all of this, though he is at the center, as "Public Official A," of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's ongoing probe into state government corruption.
Maybe Blagojevich - also known as "the big guy" or "the G," we've learned through testimony - really is innocent of any abuses of the public trust. He has not been charged with anything. But if what has been alleged is true, he certainly is guilty of incredibly poor judgment in his evaluation of people as it relates to choosing some members of his inner circle.
Seriously, who reappoints to two powerful state boards someone like Levine, a self-confessed "con man," "liar," "thief," drug abuser and Republican who contributed heavily to this Democratic governor's two previous GOP opponents? (In fairness, Levine also hoodwinked two previous governors into appointments.) What leader worthy of the title counts among his closest advisers two guys like Rezko and Christopher Kelly, both under indictment?
Illinois is a state where terms like fraud, extortion, insider contracts and kickbacks have become part of the everyday vernacular of government. Blagojevich, remember, campaigned as a reformer who would end "business as usual" in Illinois. Sounds like the bipartisan business as usual has been kicked up a notch.
Meanwhile, also on trial, though not in any formal sense, are the agencies that reportedly were so easily manipulated by the likes of Rezko, Levine, Cellini, et al.
Retired teachers downstate ought to be livid that such games were allegedly being played with their $40 billion pension portfolio at the Teachers Retirement System. As for the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, which has life-and-death control over hospital construction projects, it has for years been hounded by accusations of waste, incompetence and now corruption. If what Levine says is so, have there been other hospitals, besides the one in Crystal Lake that landed him and Rezko in trouble, that have been shaken down for bribes? Now we're forced to wonder. What constructive purpose does this board serve? Why should it even exist?
Anybody in and around state government who's pushed the ethical envelope at all should be scared senseless right now. The last governor is in federal prison, and this Rezko trial is placing an uncomfortable spotlight on the current one. Illinoisans can be forgiven for believing their state government is corrupt to its very core.
We're not sure how long prosecutor Fitzgerald plans on sticking around, but it may be a while before he can consider his job done.