Video: Blago defends innocence

updated 10/20/2009 2:15:30 PM ET 2009-10-20T18:15:30

A former top aide to ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich pleaded guilty to wire fraud Tuesday and promised to cooperate with prosecutors in the case involving the former governor in exchange for a lenient sentence.

Alonzo "Lon" Monk, 51, Blagojevich's one-time chief of staff, admitted that he schemed to shake down a racetrack owner for a $100,000 campaign contribution in exchange for the governor's signature on a bill to help subsidize tracks.

The plea is guaranteed to be a blow to Blagojevich, who is scheduled to stand trial starting June 3 on corruption charges that included allegedly trying to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat President Barack Obama held.

Monk also admitted to taking part in a wide-ranging plan to use the powers of the governor's office to shake down state businesses for campaign contributions and cash to be distributed once Blagojevich left office.

Monk entered his plea before U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel as part of an agreement that his lawyer and federal prosecutors have been negotiating for months.

He promised to provide whatever cooperation prosecutors need, including taking the witness stand at Blagojevich's trial if asked, in exchange for a sentence of 24 months in federal prison. Federal sentencing guidelines for a single count of wire fraud call for a sentence of at least 37 months in prison.

John Harris, who succeeded Monk as chief of staff, has already made such a deal, and prosecutors have been pushing convicted influence peddler Antoin "Tony" Rezko, one of Blagojevich's top fundraisers, to talk as well.

Monk, a longtime friend of the former governor, could be a powerful witness, especially if his testimony is backed up by Harris and Rezko.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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