Something a bit out of the ordinary happened earlier this month. On Saturday, the Chicago Tribune published a story about a relatively minor allegation of corruption at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). On Sunday, the Sun-Times ran a similar story.
The stories weren't unusual and neither was their content. The allegations centered around a longtime pal of Gov. Rod Blagojevich who was given a high-level position at DCFS and then somehow a bunch of money ended up in an account he controlled. It was a significant story, but not really a huge deal in the pantheon of Illinois corruption.
The unusual thing happened on the first business day after the stories appeared, when federal prosecutors immediately subpoenaed documents relating to the scandal.
The DCFS inspector general is known to have forwarded the results of her investigation to an unnamed law enforcement authority way back in late July, so it's possible that the papers got a heads up that something was about to go down with the federales. Or, investigators read the stories over the weekend and decided to take action on Monday.
Back when George Ryan was governor, every time a news outlet broke a story that was even a little related to Ryan's alleged corruption, the feds subpoenaed documents and hauled people into their offices for not-so-friendly visits.
What often happens in these types of high-level investigations is prosecutors throw out a very wide net, hoping to pop somebody - anybody - on a relatively minor charge, then blow it way out of proportion to force the subject to squeal on the ultimate target.
So, it's possible that we might be entering a similar phase with the Blagojevich administration. It was obvious last month that the feds were gazing hungrily at the governor and his two top fundraisers, Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko, when they allowed two guilty pleas alleging corruption at the Teachers Retirement System to contain so much unnecessary dirt on an alleged "fundraising strategy" supposedly perpetrated by the Blagojevich/Kelly/Rezko troika. As I've already told you before, if the feds didn't have their collective eye on the governor's operation they most likely would have kept the allegations by two admitted felons out of the agreements.
Rounding up and then putting the arm on a few minor suspects would be an expected next step if prosecutors want to build a case against the state's highest executive. We'll just have to wait and see.
The Blagojevich administration has proved to be a fertile ground for investigators. While we haven't seen any high-level convictions yet, the "G" is crawling all over the place. And, remember, the George Ryan probe began in 1998 and he is just now coming to trial.
The list of ongoing or still open state and federal probes is as long as the bathroom line at White Sox Park during a playoff game.
There's the new DCFS investigation, of course.
And then there's the twin probes into Blagojevich-appointee Stu Levine at the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board and the Teachers Retirement System Board. Levine was allegedly shaking down hospitals and financial contractors. Lots of the governor's pals picked up hospital lobbying contracts after the 2002 election that swept the self-described reformer into office.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan has an investigation, along with Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine, into the retracted Dick Mell allegations regarding the governor's people selling board and commission seats for campaign contributions.
The attorney general is also involved in a hard-hitting probe of the Illinois Commerce Commission, which has resulted in the forced resignation of its Blagojevich-appointed chairman.
There's a federal investigation of the so-called "power washing" scandal at the Illinois Department of Transportation, when a top Blagojevich administration hire allegedly funneled a contract to a relative's company.
Attorney General Madigan is also investigating the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) at the urging of Auditor General Bill Holland.
DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett is conducting a "civil" investigation of the Illinois Tollway.
There was the FBI/State Police investigation into corruption at the State Fire Marshall's office.
And there's a federal probe into the mysterious decision by CMS to drop the longtime state employee/retiree healthcare company, Health Alliance, after allegedly changing the bidding rules midstream.
My apologies if I missed any.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at capitolfax.blogspot.com