Horse Race Track Owner Testifies to Shakedown by Rod Blagojevich and His Aides

Your suggestion of a contribution at this time is inappropriate.”

— John Johnston to Rod Blagojevich Chief of Staff Lon Monk

Johnston, under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner, said he contributed to Blagojevich in the past but had no intention of making another donation in 2008. When the subject came up with Monk, Johnston said he would “literally try to change the subject.”

Johnston said Monk called him twice on Dec. 3, 2008, and said he was on the way over to the Maywood Park track where Johnston had his office. Johnston said Monk was heading from the governor’s North Side campaign office and wanted to talk about something, though he didn’t say what.

“I thought the good was he might have the latest information on the state of the bill, the bad was that he and the governor might have discussed fundraising,” Johnston said. “The two being mixed together wasn’t something I wanted to discuss.”
To insulate himself from that possibility, Johnston said he asked his father, Billy, to sit in on the meeting with Monk. Billy Johnston is the chairman of the tracks.

acetrack owner testified Monday that he was angry after being pressured to make a $100,000 campaign contribution to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich — by a lobbyist who was supposed to be working for him — in exchange for the governor's signature on a bill that would help the horse-racing industry.

John Johnston testified at Blagojevich's corruption trial that he felt uncomfortable talking about fundraising with members of the governor's inner circle and often tried to change the subject when they brought it up.

But he said the lobbyist, Alonzo Monk, made it clear in a conversation on Dec. 3, 2008, that the governor would sign the bill as soon as Johnston had made the contribution. Blagojevich was arrested six days later, and the contribution was never made. Blagojevich signed the bill a week after his arrest.

A racetrack owner who was the target of an alleged shakedown attempt by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and members of his inner circle took the stand Monday morning at Blagojevich's corruption trial.

John Johnston, 48, said he met Blagojevich in 2002 shortly after Blagojevich won the Democratic nomination for governor. He told jurors that he later began contributing to the campaign.

Prosecutors contend Blagojevich and his former chief of staff, Lon Monk, tried to squeeze Johnston for a $100,000 in exchange for legislation that would help the horse racing industry.