Juggling the interests of the owner of two horse racing tracks and his former boss, then Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Alonzo "Lon" Monk was feeling the pressure.
Monk, the former campaign manager, chief of staff and fundraiser for Blagojevich, testified Monday that the former governor was pressuring him to collect a $100,000 campaign contribution from John Johnston and that Johnston was pressuring Monk to persuade Blagojevich to sign a piece of legislation favorable to the horse racing industry.
Monk, the prosecution's second witness (and co-defendant who agreed to cooperate) in the federal corruption trial of Blagojevich and his brother, Robert Blagojevich, detailed the conversations he had with the Blagojevich brothers, members of the governor's staff and race track owner Johnston in 2008.
Monk was working for Johnston as a lobbyist, earning $12,500 a month, he testified.
Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Atty. Christopher Niewohner, who played wiretapped conversations for the jury, Monk explained that a bill that required some revenue from riverboat casinos be used to subsidize the horse racing industry had passed in the General Assembly Nov. 20, 2008 and was sent to the governor for his signature on Nov. 24, but that Rod Blagojevich stalled and would not sign it immediately.
Each day the bill remained unsigned, Johnston's businesses were being deprived of $9,000 in subsidies per day and the industry as a whole was losing $83,000, Monk testified.
In several recorded conversations between Monk and Rod Blagojevich between November and December 2008, the former governor asks repeatedly about the status of the contribution. "...Before the end of the year, right?" Blagojevich pressed Monk about the contribution.
By Jan. 1, 2009, a new ethics law would be enacted that would prohibit certain campaign contributions from entities doing business with the state.
Meanwhile, Johnston kept assuring Monk that the money was forthcoming. "Tell the big guy I'm good for it," Monk said Johnston told him. "It's just a timing issue."
Monk said Johnston had promised to pay the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund $100,000 and that Monk "was trying to get the contribution as quickly as possible so it wouldn't look like Blagojevich signed the bill only because he received a contribution."
Monk later testified that he did believe Blagojevich was stalling because he was waiting for the contribution, echoing prosecutors' allegations that Blagojevich was involved in multiple "pay to play" schemes in which he doled out jobs and favors in exchange for campaign cash.
"Did you understand there was a connection, a link between giving donation and getting the bill signed," Niewohner asked Monk.
"Yes," Monk testified.
"By whom?" Niewohner asked
"By Rod and Me," Monk testified.
In fact, Monk pleaded guilty in April to charges of conspiracy to solicit a bribe from Johnston and agreed to testify against Blagojevich.
On cross examination by Rod Blagojevich's attorney, Monk conceded that at no time did the governor say he would not sign the horse racing bill or that he would veto it.
"Did you ever hear him say you give me the $100,000 and I'll sign the race track bill?" defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. thundered at Monk.
"No," Monk testified.
"Did Rod ever tell you he wasn't signing the bill?" Adam asked.
"No," Monk testified.
Blagojevich did not sign the bill before his Dec. 8th, 2008 arrest.
Seizing on Monk's testimony on direct examination that he had talked to Johnston about the possible perception of a link between the bill and the contribution if the $100,000 came in after the governor signed the bill, Adam had a simple question for Monk:
"You're trying to make Johnston not feel extorted, isn't that right?"
"Yeah," Monk responded.
"This is an extortion case. You know he's charged with extortion. Are you telling the ladies and gentlemen of the jury that you're extorting Mr. Johnston by telling him you're not being extorted?"
In other testimony Monday, Monk testified that Blagojevich tried to get him to contact Patrick Magoon, the CEO of Children's Memorial Hospital that was getting a large grant from the state, for a campaign contribution. Monk said he refused because he did not know Magoon and suggested that Robert Blagojevich handle it. In a meeting between the three men in November, 2008, Rob pointed out that he wasn't going to deal with the hospital anymore because "they haven't returned my phone calls."
Rod Blagojevich responded by saying "screw these guys" and then made a call to the deputy governor to inquire about the status of the grant and said: "Don't do anything with it until I talk to you," Monk testified.
Throughout the day's court proceedings, Rod Blagojevich was portrayed as a man desperate to collect as much money for his campaign fund, Friends of Blagojevich, as possible. In the wiretapped conversations, his speech was forced and rapid. "Yeah, I know that," he would say, and, "By the end of the year, right?" and, "What about Krozel?" And "What about [Jerry] Reinsdorf?"
Gerry Krozel, who runs a concrete supply business and was the founding member of the American Concrete Paving Association, was also a target of Blagojevich's quest for campaign cash, according to testimony. Blagojevich approved $1.8 billion in funds for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, but there was more where that came from--as much as $5 billion more--if the governor could convince the road construction industry to donate to his campaign fund, prosecutors allege.
Monk testified that he told Blagojevich that he had talked to Krozel but that he was not going to be able to come up with $500,000 that Blagojevich allegedly was seeking.
"I was lowering his expectations and preparing him for the fact that road builders weren't going to come up with that much," Monk testified. "[Blagojevich] asks 'what about $100,000?" Monk said they may come in over $100,000 but it was "tough talking to Jerry about it."
Janan Hanna is a licensed attorney, a lecturer at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism and a freelance writer.