CHICAGO | A former top aide testified at Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial Monday that the ousted governor pressed him to collect a $100,000 campaign contribution from a racetrack owner while he delayed signing legislation that would send millions of dollars into the coffers of the racing industry.
In his grueling third day on the stand, a haggard-looking Alonzo Monk admitted that he was under so much pressure from the governor to get the campaign money and the racetrack owner to get the bill signed that he repeatedly lied to make it sound as if he was doing more than he was for both sides.
"I wanted them to think I was more aggressive than I was," said Monk, who went from being Blagojevich's chief of staff to becoming a lobbyist for the racetrack industry and others.
Monk, Blagojevich's former law school roommate, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to pressure the racetrack owner and is testifying in hopes getting a lighter sentence.
As he began cross-examining Monk, Blagojevich's attorney Sam Adam Jr. asked him about his early days with Blagojevich when the two of them were law students at Pepperdine University in California.
"You didn't do anything illegal, did you?" Adam asked.
"Other than occasional drug use, no," Monk said. That drew a big laugh in court.
Monk also answered questions from another attorney, Michael Ettinger, who represents the ousted governor's brother, Robert.
Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to scheming to get a massive payoff in exchange for filling the U.S. Senate seat that Barack Obama vacated following his November 2008 election as president. He also has pleaded not guilty to plotting to launch a racketeering scheme within the governor's office.
If convicted, the possible penalties could total $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, though many factors would be considered.
Blagojevich's brother, businessman Robert Blagojevich of Nashville, Tenn., has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the scheme to sell or trade the Senate seat and plotting to squeeze racetrack owner John Johnston for campaign money.
Earlier in the day, prosecutors played FBI wiretap tapes made in late 2008 in which Blagojevich pressed for the $100,000 contribution from the racetrack owner, saying he wanted it in his campaign fund by the end of the year. Prosecutors say Blagojevich was trying to beat the date when an ethics bill became law and limited his ability to raise funds.
Monk testified that on Dec. 4, 2008, he urged Blagojevich to call the racetrack owner because it would "put additional pressure" on him to make the donation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner asked if he understood that Blagojevich was not signing the racetrack bill because he wanted a donation. Monk said yes.
When Monk testified that Johnston would understand that the signing of the state racetrack bill was contingent on his contribution without being told explicitly, Blagojevich smiled, and began shaking his head while simultaneously jotting something on a yellow legal pad.
As Monk earlier described it, in late 2008 pressure was building on Blagojevich. Repeatedly, the governor was heard in wiretap tapes asking his brother how soon they might get the racetrack money.
"We're not going to quit until the 31st," Monk told the governor in one of the recordings.
Johnston assured Monk that he would come across with the money but that it was just a question of timing.
"Look, tell the big guy I'm good for it," Monk quoted Johnston as saying.
Meanwhile, Johnston was pressing Monk for information on when Blagojevich would sign the bill, which extended a subsidy that casinos pay to Illinois racetracks. Johnston was grumbling that his tracks were losing $9,000 a day and the racing industry $83,000 because the bill had not been signed.
At one point, Monk is heard telling Johnston that he had spoken with Blagojevich at 10:30 p.m. the previous night and had been assured by the governor that there was no problem about plans to sign the bill.
He admitted in testimony that he had not spoken with Blagojevich the night before but was lying to impress his client.
In one tape played in court, Blagojevich sounds anxious, even desperate about getting contributions ahead of the ethics laws. At one point he presses Monk to be aggressive, but to also warned him "be careful" in light of FBI investigations.