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Blagojevich Used State Plane To Meet With Campaign Donors

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Gov. Rod Blagojevich took a taxpayer-funded flight to southern Illinois where he attended an unscheduled meeting and raised $42,000 from contributors that included the family of a man he had recently appointed to a university board, records show.

After making an appearance at a public event in Mount Vernon on Nov. 20, Blagojevich attended an economic development briefing at a bank office run by a family that had contributed large sums to his campaign fund. He came away with 14 checks ranging from $500 to $20,000, according to interviews and records reviewed by The Associated Press.

While his Mount Vernon appearance was noted on the governor's official calendar, the briefing was not. That meeting took place at the corporate office of bank managers J. Hunt and F. William Bonan, according to one participant who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Most of the contributions came from Market Street Bancshares Inc. and its managers, the Bonans. They donated $30,000 just a month after William Bonan's son, William II, was appointed by Blagojevich to a non-salaried post on the Southern Illinois University board of trustees.

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on a federal complaint that he tried to trade official government actions for campaign contributions or a cushy job. The complaint, which detailed Blagojevich conversations caught on wiretaps, noted the urgency with which he was trying to raise campaign cash before a new state ethics law began on Jan. 1.

The Illinois House has impeached Blagojevich, and the second-term Democrat awaits a Senate trial that could remove him from office.

None of the Bonans returned phone calls left at their Market Street Bancshares office. They have not been accused of wrongdoing. Prior to Nov. 20, the Bonan brothers and Market Street had contributed $166,000 to Blagojevich dating back to October 2001.

McLeansboro businessman Jerome Gholson, who attended the meeting at the Bonans' office, said it was about a coal mine scheduled to open in Hamilton County.

Gholson said Blagojevich didn't say much and that only the coal mine was discussed. He couldn't remember who contacted him about the event but said his $1,000 contribution was his idea

"There was a receptionist there who was taking us in, and I said, 'See that Gov. Blagojevich gets this check,'" said Gholson, one of about 100 people at the meeting.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Katie Ridgway did not respond to questions about the coal-development meeting.

None of the other contributors returned calls seeking comment. They are not accused of wrongdoing.

Blagojevich has been repeatedly criticized for his liberal state-plane use, including round trips from his Chicago home to the Capitol in Springfield during legislative sessions.

Documents from the Department of Transportation, which maintains the state-owned fleet of aircraft, show former Deputy Gov. Bob Greenlee were among the passengers on the Nov. 20 flight to Mount Vernon. Greenlee, who was heard in discussions taped by federal authorities, resigned shortly after Blagojevich and former chief of staff John Harris were arrested.

Blagojevich's fundraising for the second half of 2008 is not due to be reported to the State Board of Elections until next week, but the House impeachment committee subpoenaed the records, which show the Nov. 20 contributions.

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Associated Press Writer Deanna Bellandi in Chicago contributed to this report.