A nefarious ring of conspirators by mattsteinglass
April 3, 2009, 11:54 am
Filed under: Crime

I accept that Rod Blagojevich, pending conviction, was probably a pretty corrupt guy who broke a lot of laws. And I’m sure the RICO statute is necessary and that’s it’s often important to charge people with engaging in a criminal conspiracy. But still, I find it worrisome that descriptions of activities in legal filings sound more ominous when they are described as “a conspiracy to commit” whatever activity is described. I mean, here in Vietnam you routinely see democracy activists accused in the government-controlled press of “plotting” to do things which themselves ought to be considered completely innocuous, like criticizing the government. Similarly, in Patrick Fitzgerald’s press release announcing the filing of the charges against Blagojevich, we read:

The RICO conspiracy count alleges that Blagojevich personally, the Office of the Governor of Illinois and Friends of Blagojevich were associated and, together, constituted the “Blagojevich Enterprise,” whose primary purpose was to exercise and preserve power over Illinois government for the financial and political benefit of Blagojevich…

Rod Blagojevich is a politician. If he weren’t working with his own office and his friends to exercise and preserve power over Illinois government for his own political benefit, and for his own financial benefit within the law (drawing his salary, say), he would be crazy and incompetent. The part where it gets bad is the part where he and his buddies use their political power to do all kinds of illegal and immoral stuff like this:

  • in 2003, Blagojevich, Monk, Kelly, Rezko and other co-schemers implemented this agreement by directing lucrative state business relating to the refinancing of billions of dollars in State of Illinois Pension Obligation Bonds to a company whose lobbyist agreed to provide hundreds of thousands  of dollars to Rezko out of the fee the lobbyist would collect, and Rezko in turn  agreed to split the money with Blagojevich, Monk and Kelly;

Yet the generally excellent David Kurtz comments on this: “Running state government as a criminal enterprise. Blago didn’t mess around.” I think this is a slightly dangerous way to express things. Blagojevich used his political power to direct state funds to cronies who promised to split the money with him; this is illegal; we knew this. When you start to think that some layer of evilness is added by saying he was “running state government as a criminal enterprise” rather than just “he used his government office to commit crimes,” you’re edging towards the vocabulary of the smear job.


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