Rod Blagojevich Trial: John Wyma, lobbyist and advisor for Blagojevich, Testifies
He [Blagojevich] was going to give the hospital 8 million bucks and he wanted to get Magoon for 50.”— John Wyma
I was increasingly alarmed about the level of aggressiveness that the fundraising had taken on and it made me uncomfortable.”— John Wyma
He [Rahm Emanuel] said the President-Elect would value and appreciate Valerie Jarrett in the Senate seat.”— John Wyma
Heading into the home stretch of the government case, lobbyist and Blagojevich insider John Wyma finally has taken the stand. Wyma is a pivotal figure in the case because it was information provided to federal agents by him that enabled them to obtain court orders to tap Blagojevich’s phones in fall 2008.
Wyma’s testimony is expected to get to the heart of some of the most dramatic charges leveled against Blagojevich: that he held up a state grant to a school as a price for fundraising help and that he tried to halt an expansion of Medicaid care for children for the same reason.
Wyma took up the school situation first. In addition to Blagojevich, Wyma said he was also close to U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the North Side congressman who took over Blagojevich’s seat in Congress in 2002.
Blagojevich insider John Wyma is now explaining why he decided to blow the whistle on the former governor.
Wyma described a series of meetings in early October 2008 with Blagojevich and others in the governor’s campaign operation about how to ratchet up fundraising in anticipation of an impending ethics law that would severely limit the ability to take donations from state contractors.
At one of those sessions, on Oct. 6, Wyma said Blagojevich discussed how to raise $100,000 from businessman Mike Vondra, who was a lobbying client of Wyma’s. Blagojevich had met with Vondra earlier in the day to talk about a possible state grant to help oil giant BP on an Illinois project.
Another topic of discussion at the fundraising meeting was getting $500,000 out of road-building executive Gerald Krozel, who was pushing for Blagojevich to announce nearly $8 billion in tollway expansion initiatives.
Lobbyist and onetime Rod Blagojevich pal John Wyma has continued his testimony by discussing his role in Blagojevich’s alleged attempts to bargain over the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.
Wyma said he got a call from Rahm Emanuel, who was to become Obama’s chief of staff, in November 2008.
“He expressed to me the president-elect wanted Valerie Jarrett in the Senate and asked if I could relay that message” to Blagojevich, Wyma said.
Obama would “value and appreciate it,” Wyma said he was told by Emanuel.
Wyma said he spoke to Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris and asked him to pass that message onto the governor. If having a good, growing relationship with Obama was something that was part of the governor’s “decision matrix,” Wyma said he told Harris, “it would make sense to have Valerie as the pick.”
Rod Blagojevich’s defense is questioning John Wyma about his lobbying business and whether Blagojevich was his “political godfather” in Illinois.
Wyma acknowledged his longtime friendship with the new governor of Illinois was a consideration when it came to opening his lobbying business in 2003.
Despite repeated government objections, lawyer Sheldon Sorosky tried to come up with ways to ask how well Wyma knew the governor. After Judge James Zagel finally allowed one, Sorosky asked if Blagojevich was “the person he knew best in Illinois?”
“If that was the question, I should have sustained the objection,” Zagel said.
Sorosky eventually asked how much money Wyma made in his first year in business.
“Better than a million dollars,” Wyma said.
One of his clients was Provena, which Wyma called a “collection of hospitals, a hospital system.” He was paid $10,000 a month, which included helping Provena before the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, Wyma said.
John Wyma, Rod Blagojevich's former Congressional chief of staff, fund-raiser and friend, is testifying with a promise of immunity about fund-raising at Friends of Blagojevich in the ex-governor's first term.
Blagojevich, sitting at the defense table, stared at Wyma as he passed him on his way to the witness stand. The ex-governor visibly sighed when hit the stand.
Wyma -- a tanned, blond-haired man wearing a gray suit and pink and blue striped tie -- says he was one of Blagojevich's "central raisers." Fund-raising meetings were attended by the governor, Lon Monk and Chris Kelly, among others.
That point -- that Blagojevich was in the room for fund-raising meetings -- echoes testimony of previous witnesses and suggests that Blago lied to the FBI when he told them he put up a "firewall" between politics and fund-raising.
John Wyma testifies about an Oct. 6, 2008, meeting with Rod Blagojevich in which the governor said he planned to ask a road building executive for $500,000 before approving an Illinois Tollway construction project.
Blagojevich and Wyma had just met in the governor's office with construction magnate Michael Vondra, who wanted help with a business venture that would bring oil giant BP to Illinois. After the meeting, Wyma testified, Blago said he wanted to ask Vondra for a contribution.
"He said he liked Vondra a lot and wanted to get $100,000 from him by the end of the year," Wyma said. That's when new ethics legislation was scheduled to kick in, which would prohibit the governor from accepting cash from people who do business with the state.
Wyma had attended a meeting on Oct. 8, 2008, in which Blagojevich talked about "getting Magoon for 50" -- a reference to allegedly demanding $50,000 from Children's Memorial Hospital CEO Patrick Magoon in exchange for signing a bill that would increase that hospital's reimbursement rates from the state.
When Valerie Jarrett was still in contention for the Senate seat in early November 2008, Rahm Emanuel called longtime Rod Blagojevich friend John Wyma.
Emanuel wanted Wyma to deliver a message to Blagojevich.
Wyma, a state lobbyist, just testified that Emanuel told him to call Blagojevich and express something on behalf of the President-Elect.
"He said the President-Elect would value and appreciate Valerie Jarrett in the Senate seat," Wyma said.
Just 15 minutes into the defense's cross examination of John Wyma, Judge James Zagel dismisses jurors to see where defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky is headed with questioning.
Outside of the jury's presence, Sorosky says he believes Wyma was instructed by Tony Rezko to bribe a member of the Hospital Facilities Planning Board if Wyma wanted his client, Provena Hospital to have any success before the board.
"This was a crime in fact this man committed," Sorosky told Zagel.