The investigation into the death of the former chief fundraiser for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich intensified on Sunday as medical examiners completed an autopsy and detectives looked into whether drugs found in the trusted aide's vehicle might have factored into his death.
Dwight Welch, the mayor of suburban Country Club Hills where Christopher Kelly was found slumped over his vehicle's steering wheel in a lumber yard, said a number of drugs were found in the former fundraiser's black Cadillac Escalade but declined to say which drugs. He did say the investigation was being treated as a possible suicide.
Welch said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Sunday morning that it was his understanding that Kelly had told an officer at the hospital that he had "taken on overdose of something." But on Sunday afternoon he backed off that statement and said he was not "confirming or denying" that Kelly had made such a statement to police.
The Cook County Medical Examiner's performed an autopsy but said Sunday it couldn't determine the cause of death until toxicology tests are completed in 3-6 weeks.
Investigating death as a suicide
Kelly died Saturday morning at a Chicago hospital, and Welch said his city's police detectives were investigating the death as a suicide but giving the case the priority of a homicide.
An admitted high-stakes gambler who once haunted Las Vegas' card tables, Kelly was facing at least eight years in prison after pleading guilty to fraud charges in two separate cases, and he was scheduled to start serving his time on Friday.
Welch said detectives want to interview Clarissa Flores-Buhelos, 30, who he said was Kelly's girlfriend. Flores-Buhelos told police she found Kelly Friday night slumped over the wheel of his Escalade at the lumber yard, Welch said. Kelly is believed to have rented storage space nearby.
The mayor said it appeared Kelly called or text-messaged Flores-Buhelos and asked her to meet him at the lumberyard. He said she told police she pushed Kelly into the passenger seat and drove him to Oak Forest Hospital for treatment.
Kelly arrived at the hospital at 11:15 p.m., and was transferred six hours later to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital in Chicago for further treatment. He was pronounced dead Saturday at 10:46 a.m.
Flores-Buhelos hired a prominent Chicago defense attorney, Terry Gillespie, who did not immediately respond to a message left at his office seeking comment.
Detectives are looking to speak with a man who turned up at Oak Forest Hospital, identified himself as Michael Allen and asked to pick up the Escalade but was turned away by security, Welch said.
Believed to be strapped for cash
Kelly was part of the former governor's inner circle, and as chairman of Blagojevich's campaign fund, he presided over a political war chest of millions of dollars. But at the time of his death, Kelly had run up thousands of dollars in personal debts was believed to be strapped for cash.
He was facing three years in prison for hiding $1.3 million in income, including company money he used to pay gambling debts that he wrote off as business expenses. He was facing five additional years for taking part in an $8.5 million fraud involving roofing work on United Air Lines and American Airlines hangars at O'Hare International Airport.
And still to come was a trial in a sweeping indictment that charged Blagojevich, Kelly and four other men with planning several fraudulent deals involving state government and millions of dollars in kickbacks.
The trial is set for June 3 and could have added years to Kelly's sentence.
Even while his problems were mounting, Kelly continued to wield heavy influence in the Blagojevich administration.
Early on, Blagojevich appointed him as the governor's liaison to the gambling industry. But he had to step down after it was found that he had business ties to a man who held shares in the planned Emerald Riverboat Gambling Casino.
Blagojevich expressed sadness
When fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko was indicted for a wide-ranging fraud that included shaking down the money management firms, Blagojevich said he was confident that the same wouldn't happen to Kelly. He said he was much closer to Kelly than to Rezko.
When Kelly was indicted on tax charges, Blagojevich expressed sadness.
"Chris is my friend," Blagojevich said. "I am saddened to hear these allegations about his personal life."
While other members of Blagojevich's circle have switched sides and become federal witnesses against him in hopes of getting lighter sentences, Kelly steadfastly refused to turn against the former governor.
Prosecutors made in plain they hoped that he would cooperate and tell what he knew about corruption in state government but he stubbornly rejected that idea.
Whatever secrets Christopher G. Kelly may have known died with him