CHICAGO - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on criminal charges on Tuesday, including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by fellow Democrat President-elect Barack Obama, federal prosecutors said.
Blagojevich was also accused of threatening to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of the Chicago Cubs' baseball home Wrigley Field "to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical" of him.
The 51-year-old Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were charged in a 76-page federal indictment with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. Both were taken into custody at their homes in Chicago.
In Illinois, the governor selects a successor when there is a mid-term Senate vacancy. Obama resigned from the Senate soon after winning the November 4 presidential election.
Blagojevich allegedly was caught on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month.
He was seeking a "substantial" salary for himself at a nonprofit foundation or union affiliated organization, a spot on a corporate board for his wife, promises of campaign cash, as well as a cabinet post or ambassadorship in exchange for his Senate choice, the FBI affidavit added.
Blagojevich, in his second term, is the latest in a string of Illinois governors to run afoul of the law. His immediate predecessor. George Ryan, is in jail following a federal corruption conviction.
"Many, including myself, thought that the recent conviction of a former governor would usher in a new era of honesty and reform in Illinois politics," Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said in a statement.
"Clearly, the charges announced today reveal that the office of the Governor has become nothing more than a vehicle for self-enrichment, unrestricted by party affiliation and taking Illinois politics to a new low."
Grant and Patrick Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, will detail the charges in a news conference at 11 a.m. CDT (1700 GMT) in Chicago.
(Reporting by Michael Conlon and James Vicini, Kyle Peterson and Karen Pierog in Chicago, Editing by Jackie Frank)