Wednesday December 17, 2008 – RawStory
by David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has gained notoriety for his involvement in a pay-to-play corruption scandal — but is it possible that he was once a petty criminal?
Attorney and former police officer Robert Cooley claims that back when he was doing undercover work for the FBI in the late 1980’s, Blagojevich was a bookie on the North Side of Chicago who was making payoffs to the mob.
Cooley said in a web interview last week, “I observed Rod, the present governor, who was running a gambling operation out in the western suburbs, he was paying street tax to the mob out there.”
Cooley, whose testimony helped secure 24 convictions for corruption, says he told federal authorities about Blagojevich’s operations almost twenty years ago. He provided the same information to ABC 7 News in Chicago in 2006, when Blagojevich was running for re-election.
ABC 7 did not report Cooley’s accusations at that time because he was reluctant to have his identity revealed, but now he is speaking out publicly. According to Cooley, Blagojevich regularly paid off Robert Abbinanti, an associate of mob boss Marco D’Amico.
“When he ran the first time,” Cooley says of Blagojevich, “I predicted he was a hands-on person who would personally be selling every position there was in the state of Illinois. That’s exactly what happened.”
A site that reports on organized crime describes one-time mob lawyer Cooley as “the infamously corrupt Chicago attorney of ‘Operation Gambat’ fame who bugged his criminal cohorts at the F.B.I.’s request for 3 1/2-years.”
“In the summer of 1989,” the story continues, “Cooley tipped D’Amico off to a high stakes card game to be played outside of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where the ‘take’ could reach as high as $1 million dollars. … Robert Abbinanti, the Streets and San truck driver, was told to bring along shotguns and a .22 caliber handgun equipped with a silencer to the Wisconsin digs to make a score in hitting the card game.”
Both the attempted robbery and the federal investigators’ plans to arrest the perpetrators on the spot fell through, and “the card game ruse was Cooley’s final adventure as an undercover government informant in the D’Amico investigation. Shortly afterward he entered the witness protection program and has been testifying against top level mob guys in one way or another ever since.”
“The reason the city [of Chicago] can never be cleaned up,” Cooley now says, “is when the people in power have the money and have the ability to silence the media so the media will not report it. As long as that goes on, it will never change.”
Blagojevich’s spokeman declined to comment, but his lawyer told ABC 7 he would be delighted to cross-examine Cooley on his allegations.
ABC 7 has more details here.
This video is from WLS-TV/DT Chicago, broadcast Dec. 17, 2008.