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IL: Ariel Investments, Citigroup got calls about job for Patti Blagojevich, aide testifies

Patti Blagojevich‘s real estate business was struggling and she was looking for a job — one that would afford her time to raise her children and fulfill her duties as first lady.

So at some point in 2008 Gov. Rod Blagojevich asked his chief of staff, John Harris, to come up with a list of financial firms that did business with the state and see whether he recognized the names of any of their principals, according to Harris’ testimony at his boss’ ongoing corruption trial. Harris was to set up meetings with them regarding hiring the governor’s wife.

The Tribune reported last week that Harris contacted Ariel Investments and Citigroup.

But whom, specifically, did Harris call? At Ariel, according to testimony, he contacted John Rogers, the investment firm’s well-known CEO and a close friend of President Barack Obama‘s. Rogers also is the ex-husband of former White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers and donated more than $36,000 to Blagojevich over several election cycles, according to state campaign finance data.

The person Harris contacted at Citi is less prominent: Rade “Ray” Kljajic (pronounced “Klee-itch”). According to a transcript of Harris’ June 21 testimony, Blagojevich’s former chief of staff testified that, for almost 15 years, he had both “a professional as well as personal relationship” with Kljajic. The two worked together on bond deals when Harris worked for the city of Chicago in the aviation department and as budget director.

Kljajic’s official title is managing director at Citi’s institutional clients group. In practice, governments pay Kljajic and his team fees to help them issue bonds, or raise money from investors. The governments use the money raised from the bond sales to build roads and schools and for other infrastructure projects.

A spokeswoman for Citi declined to comment.

Kljajic met with Patti Blagojevich at a restaurant across from the State of Illinois building in Chicago but only after Harris “made clear to him that I didn’t want him to hire or offer her a position. He felt relieved at that point,” Harris testified.

Still, all did not go smoothly. According to Harris’ testimony, Patti Blagojevich expected some kind of follow-up from Kljajic, which she never received. She complained to her husband, who complained to Harris. Harris testified that “some time later” he received a note from Kljajic saying that he “was concerned he may be offending” Patti Blagojevich and that he was “worried that she was growing angry with him but he didn’t know what else he could do for her.”

Harris said he responded, “Don’t worry about it, Ray. I’ll take care of it.”

And Harris did. Although Harris testified that the governor had ordered him to cut off Ariel and Citi from all state business, Citi won a contract to co-manage a bond issue for the Illinois Tollway Authority. Harris testified that he hid that information from the governor to avoid a blow-up.

Rogers seemed to handle the situation skillfully. According to the testimony, Harris asked Rogers if he would be willing to meet with Patti Blagojevich or “come up with names of firms that he knew of that were looking for people that did not do state business.” He chose to make a referral — to North Star Financial Services Corp.

When Harris told Patti Blagojevich about North Star, she already knew about the firm, he said. She told him North Star had sponsored her to sit for her Series 7 license exam — a test that is required to be a financial adviser in the United States.

The sponsorship was news to Harris. He testified that Patti Blagojevich told him North Star “didn’t have any opportunities,” or she wasn’t interested in them; Harris couldn’t remember which.

But it appears Patti Blagojevich had already worked for North Star. The Tribune reported that Patti Blagojevich briefly worked at the investment firm in early 2008, after touting her ability to land state business, and then left. Peter Contos, the North Star executive who sponsored Patti Blagojevich’s license application, told the Tribune that the first lady “didn’t live up to her own billing and failed to bring in any business.”

Contos did not return two phone messages seeking comment Tuesday.

“John Rogers and John Harris generally discussed if anything could be done to help Patti network in our industry,” said Mellody Hobson, Ariel’s president. “And it never went further than that.”

The matter of finding Patti Blagojevich a job was dropped in September 2008 when she got a position as a fundraiser for the Chicago Christian Industrial League.

Movers and shakers

Vallie Szymanski has left the Executives’ Club of Chicago and is now executive director of The Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization. Szymanski co-founded the organization with Rick and Susan Roman of the Signature Room at the 95th. Susan Roman was diagnosed with the disease in 2009.

Cathy Lemieux, 56, of Lake Bluff, and Daniel Sullivan, 51, of Woodridge, have been promoted to executive vice presidents at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Lemieux oversees the bank supervision and regulation department; Sullivan the economic research department.

Melissa Harris can be reached at mmharris@tribune.com or 312-222-4582.

Read the original article from Stateline.org.

Published in: Politics Keywords: , , ,

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