Page last updated at 23:13 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Profile: Rod Blagojevich

Rod Blagojevich
Rod Blagojevich's first term as governor was hit by scandal
Rod Blagojevich ran for the Illinois governorship in 2002 promising an end to "business as usual".

His predecessor, Republican George Ryan, had been convicted of corruption, and Mr Blagojevich became the state's first Democratic governor in 30 years.

But now Mr Blagojevich himself has been removed from office, after being unanimously convicted of abusing his powers in a vote in the Illinois Senate.

In December 2008 the governor was arrested by federal agents and charged with attempting to offer President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat in return for a lucrative position for himself with a non-profit organisation.

He still faces a criminal trial on bribery charges.

The governor says the things he was interested in doing were always lawful.

Humble origins

Mr Blagojevich rose from humble origins to become the most powerful office-holder in Illinois.

The son of a Serbian immigrant steelworker, as a child he shined shoes and delivered pizzas to bring in money for his family.

He worked as a dishwasher on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to help pay for his college tuition at Chicago's Northwestern University.

After graduating from Pepperdine University Law School in 1983, he worked as a clerk for Chicago Alderman Edward Vrdolyak, before joining Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's legal team as Cook County Assistant State's Attorney.

In 1992 he entered politics as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, making the leap to Washington in 1996 when he won a seat in the US House of Representatives to represent Illinois' Fifth Congressional District.

That seat had been held by Democrat Daniel Rostenkowski until 1994, when he was convicted of mail fraud.

Mr Blagojevich easily beat the one-term Republican who had taken over after Rostenkowski's political demise.

He then used his new position to build his profile, ahead of a run for the state governorship, which he embarked on in 2002.

He was helped in his early political career by his wife Patti's father Richard Mell, a Chicago alderman, but the two men fell out in Mr Blagojevich's first term in office, when the governor shut down a landfill site owned by a distant cousin of his wife.

Mr Mell had acted as an advisor to the cousin, and later accused Mr Blagojevich of "using" him.

'New low'

Scandal surrounded the new governor during his first term.

Eyebrows were raised in 2005 when contracts for fast food franchises at the Illinois Tollway oasis were given to Blagojevich campaign donors.

And in 2006 it emerged that Mr Blagojevich had received $1,500 from a personal friend, shortly after the friend's wife had been given a job at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Mr Blagojevich also faced questions about his ties to convicted tycoon Tony Rezko.

Mr Rezko - who came to prominence during the 2008 presidential election because of his links to Barack Obama - was a key fundraiser for Mr Blagojevich, and the governor appointed him to a number of boards in the city with power over construction permits and the Chicago teachers' pension fund.

He used his position on the boards to extort money from businesses that wanted to win construction contracts and grants from the pension fund.

During the trial, Mr Blagojevich was identified as "Public Official A" who featured in court documents as a beneficiary of the scheme.

Despite the allegations swirling around him, Mr Blagojevich won re-election on 7 November 2006.

But US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, famous for his involvement in the prosecution of White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, had been investigating Mr Blagojevich since 2006.

In December 2008, federal agents pounced.

Shortly after his arrest, officials released transcripts of intercepted phone conversations in which Mr Blagojevich appeared to be discussing his desire to trade Mr Obama's Senate seat in return for campaign contributions or well-paid positions in a non-profit organisation.

Mr Fitzgerald described Mr Blagojevich's actions as "a corruption crime spree", and alleged that the governor had made other hiring decisions based on the willingness of appointees to contribute campaign funds.

He was also accused of illegally threatening to block financial assistance to the company that owns the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

He allegedly demanded that the company fired members of the newspaper's editorial board critical of the governor.

If convicted in his criminal trial, Mr Blagojevich would hardly be the first Chicago politician to fall foul of corruption laws.

But what Mr Fitzgerald describes as his attempt to sell a seat in the US Senate marks "a truly new low", according to the prosecutor.

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