Blago defense: 'Rich kid' betrayed friend's trust

May 18, 2011 - 12:59 PM

CHICAGO (AP) — Defense attorneys at the corruption retrial of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sought to dent the credibility of a key government witness Wednesday, portraying him as a privileged rich kid who betrayed his old friend's trust.

Blagojevich's law school buddy-turned-top aide, Lon Monk, was on the stand for a second day after telling jurors that he and Blagojevich allegedly tried to shake down executives for campaign cash.

Sometimes raising his voice during cross-examination, defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky mentioned Monk's upbringing in California as a doctor's son and contrasted it with Blagojevich's childhood as the son of a Serbian immigrant factory worker.

"Is it fair to say, you were the rich kid form California and (Blagojevich) was the poor kid from the northwest side of Chicago?" Sorosky asked. The judge ruled the question impermissible before Monk could answer.

In asking the question, Sorosky seemed to try to draw sympathy for Blagojevich from the 18 jurors and alternates, who include at least one person who once worked in a steel factory.

Prosecutors are in the homestretch of their case, saying they have fewer than half a dozen witnesses left to call. That means they're likely to call fewer than 20 witnesses in all; they called some 30 at the first trial, which ended with a hung jury.

Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges at the retrial, including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a high-profile job, and that he attempted to shake down businesses for campaign donations. Jurors at his first trial last year deadlocked on all but one charge, convicting him of lying to the FBI. He has denied any wrongdoing.

When Sorosky alluded to Monk's cooperation with federal authorities, Blagojevich's former chief of staff appeared calm. At the first trial, which ended with a hung jury, he sometimes became flustered.

"He hired you because he trusted you and you were his friend?" Sorosky said, over prosecutors' objections. When Sorosky asked again, "He trusted you, did he not?" — Monk replied, "Yeah, he trusted me."

Monk pleaded guilty in 2009 to trying to squeeze a racetrack owner for a $100,000 campaign contribution, which is also among the allegations against Blagojevich. Monk is expected to get a reduced sentence for his testimony

Sorosky also pressed Monk about his admission that he illegally accepted around $70,000 in cash — usually hundred-dollar bills stuffed in an envelope — over one year from Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko.

Wanting to establish that Blagojevich did not receive money himself, Sorosky asked, "Why didn't you tell (Blagojevich) — Rezko's given me $10,000 regularly — are you getting your end?" The judge said Monk didn't have to answer.

Monk testified Tuesday that Blagojevich and an inner circle plotted to profit from state decisions from the outset of the governor's first term. The plan, Monk said, was to split ill-gotten gains after Blagojevich left office.