Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, was also arrested.
According to a 76-page FBI affidavit, Blagojevich, 51, was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps over the past month conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat for personal benefits for himself and his wife.
President-elect Obama said Tuesday he was saddened by a corruption case involving Blagojevich but that he was not aware of Blagojevich’s alleged efforts to sell the Senate seat Obama had vacated.
Mr. Obama told reporters he was “saddened and sobered” by the case.
Corruption in the Blagojevich administration has been the focus of a federal probe involving an alleged $7 million scheme aimed at drawing kickbacks out of companies seeking business from the state. Federal prosecutors have acknowledged they’re also investigating “serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud” under Blagojevich, the Associated Press reported.
The FBI affidavit says the Democratic governor also talked about getting his wife, Patti, placed on corporate boards where she might get $150,000 a year in fees.
He also allegedly discussed ways to procure more campaign funds for himself or possibly nab a post in the president’s Cabinet or other high-level position once he left the governor’s office, news agencies report.
“I want to make money,” the affidavit quotes him as saying in one conversation.
“We were in the middle of a corruption crime spree, and we wanted to stop it,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said at a Chicago press conference, calling the charges against Blagojevich “a truly new low.” He added: “The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, the FBI arrested Blagojevich and Harris simultaneously at their homes at about 6:15 a.m. CST Both were transported to FBI headquarters in Chicago, where they remained at 9 a.m.
U.S. District Judge Nan Nolan in Chicago later ordered Blagojevich released on his own recognizance. He was released on a signature bond that specifies that he’ll forfeit $4,500 bond if he doesn’t appear in court and was also ordered to relinquish his passport, news agencies report.
Among other allegations, Blagojevich is also charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field. In return for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the newspaper’s editorial board who had been critical of him fired, according to the AP.
Blagojevich took the chief executive’s office in 2003 on a platform of reform. He replaced former Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, who is serving a 6-year prison sentence after being convicted of racketeering and fraud charges.
Both Blagojevich and Harris are scheduled to appear in a federal courthouse in Chicago later Tuesday, and U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald and FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert D. Grant are preparing to detail their case at a news conference at noon ET.
“The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering,” Fitzgerald said in a statement, according to the Tribune’s Web site.