Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The rat race begins

Who among us would care in the least about Christopher Kelly if not for his association with this man?

The Blagojevich-bashers among us (you people know who you are) must have been incredibly ecstatic on Monday. Somebody associated with the now-former governor was sent to prison.

I can only imagine the countdown that begins toward the day that Milorod himself gets sentenced to a prison term.

ADMITTEDLY, MONDAY’S MOMENT wasn’t directly related to the wrongdoing that Blagojevich faces criminal charges for – there’s nothing about replacing Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate with the highest bidder.

Nobody tried to shake down the Chicago Tribune. None of those activities in which Blagojevich is alleged to have engaged came up.

But Christopher Kelly was a fundraiser for Blagojevich. He was one of the people who helped produce all that campaign cash that enabled Blagojevich to be competitive against Republican Jim Ryan in 2002 – and totally bury ’06 opponent Judy Baar Topinka in a mound of absurd campaign spots.

How else to explain the fact that she got annihilated in that election cycle for being seen dancing badly with former Gov. George Ryan?

KELLY PLEADED GUILTY to his offense – tax fraud – and on Monday was sentenced in U.S. District Court to a prison term of just over three years (37 months, to be exact – he could have received a four-year term maximum).

Federal prosecutors say Kelly was one of those people who enjoyed Las Vegas action a bit too much and wound up losing money. To cover his losses, prosecutors say he tried to use funds from his business.

More specifically, they say he under-reported the profits from his roofing company by about $500,000 over a four-year time period so that he could have spare cash to pay his gambling debts.

Personally, I don’t think a business executive who tampers with his company’s books is all that interesting. But there is the fact that he was a Blagojevich supporter.

AND WE ALL know that some people are desperate to believe anybody tainted by association with Blagojevich deserves severe punishment. Why else are there are whole slew of people appointed during the Blagojevich gubernatorial term who now are the focus of a Legislature attempt to fire them all.

It’s so bad that I saw a low-level state official at a recent gathering of the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce who felt compelled to apologize for the fact that he was a Blagojevich appointee – before going forward to explain the specific situation for which he was brought before the group to speak.

So Kelly’s prison term, which technically is for activity that had nothing to do with the operations of state government, got significant attention on Monday.

It is going to be like this all through the upcoming months, as official after official who had a Blagojevich association decides that a “guilty” plea and a few months to a couple of years in a federal prison (likely minimum-security) is preferable to an ongoing legal ordeal that links their name more tightly with Blagojevich than they are comfortable.

THESE OFFICIALS WILL build up to people who were closer and closer to Blagojevich, until the day comes when it will be the former governor himself sitting at the defendant’s table in a federal courtroom.

Then, the people who felt some glee on Monday will be downright ecstatic – the concept of Blagojevich himself in prison will be so close they will practically be able to taste it. The sick jokes will really be bouncing all over the place by that point (which I suspect could come some time around October or November of 2010 – literally right around Election Day).

There’s just a couple of points I’d like to make about this whole situation – and anyone who read my commentary back during the impeachment proceedings knows that I think the most vociferous Blagojevich critics are over-reacting and likely need to take a sedative or two.

I’m not all that interested in hearing about a whole batch of officials who, one by one, get sent away to prison for a stretch. Personally, I’m inclined to think the fact that they endured Blagojevich’s erratic personality was a pretty severe punishment, in and of itself.

BUT WHEN TRYING to figure out how much these people were part of some overall conspiracy to defraud the people of Illinois, I’d have to say that the impression I have developed thus far was of an administration where the chief executive was erratic and often ignored the advice of his so-called top advisers.

Prosecutors like to start at the bottom when they suspect a criminal plot, figuring that the first few people who get caught are the ones who truly aren’t that involved. But they provide an initial building block toward a pyramid of “criminal” behavior. The point at the top (in this case, Milorod himself) is the focus that they hope to use the rest of the pyramid to crush him with.

But this might very well be the case where the tip is about the only point worth paying attention to. “Get” Blagojevich, if you feel you must. The rest of the mess doesn’t intrigue me much.

Somehow, I don’t feel like the streets are safer or that society as a whole is all that better off, just because Christopher Kelly’s scam to cover his gambling debts was exposed during the G-men’s attempt to get the governor.


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