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Illinois first lady scrutinized before husband arrested

  • Story Highlights
  • Patricia Blagojevich is allegedly heard urging her husband to withhold state funds
  • She comes from a political family; father is Chicago alderman, sister an activist
  • Her real estate deals with fraudster businessman Antoin Rezko have drawn scrutiny
  • Her father once accused husband's administration of selling state appointments
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(CNN) -- Despite Patricia Blagojevich's myriad charitable endeavors, she is now thought of as the goading voice in the background of a November phone call taped by the FBI.

Illinois first lady Patricia Blagojevich was born into a political family.

"Hold up that f---ing Cubs s---. F--- them," she allegedly said as her husband, Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, bandied about a scheme to withhold state funds from the Cubs' parent Tribune Company unless the owner agreed to fire certain Chicago Tribune employees.

Seven days later, according to the affidavit, she took part in a meeting about whether President-elect Barack Obama would secure a lucrative job for her if her husband appointed Obama's preferred candidate to his vacant Senate seat.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has said Patricia Blagojevich is not the target of the investigation of the governor's alleged attempts to sell Obama's Senate seat, pressure the Chicago Tribune and threaten to withdraw funding from a children's hospital. Video Watch what prosecutors say was the first lady's role in alleged scandal »

A glance at her profile on the governor's Web site details a list of philanthropic endeavors, including awareness campaigns for breast cancer, heart disease and food allergies. She also has championed children's health care and literacy, and has parlayed her love for gardening into the State Beautification Initiative.

"As first lady, she works hard to promote initiatives that will help the families of Illinois bring up happy, healthy and successful children," her biography says.

Blagojevich and her family have been part of the Chicago machine for decades. The 43-year-old mother of two is the oldest daughter of Margaret Mell and longtime Chicago Alderman Richard Mell, whose district includes part of Chicago's Northwest Side, where Rod Blagojevich was raised.

Patricia Blagojevich has two siblings, Rich Mell Jr. and Deborah Mell, a gay rights activist and incoming state representative who was arrested in March 2004 while protesting Cook County, Illinois,' refusal to grant her a same-sex marriage license.

Deborah Mell had said she would run for the seat of U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel after Obama tapped him as his chief of staff, but she later withdrew from consideration.

Richard Mell is a well-known Chicago power player who has served on the City Council since 1975. Rod Blagojevich met his future wife in 1988, at one of the alderman's fundraisers.

The couple married in 1990, and Mell put his political weight behind Rod Blagojevich, who quickly ascended the political ranks.

Mell has long been credited as choreographer of that rise, which took Rod Blagojevich from the Cook County state's attorney office to the Illinois General Assembly (1992) to the U.S. House of Representatives (1997) to the governor's office (2003).

Rod and Patricia Blagojevich did not move into the governor's mansion in Springfield, opting instead to live 200 miles north in Chicago's upscale Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. There, they live with their daughters -- Amy, 10, and Annie, 4.

After Rod Blagojevich was elected to the state's top post, a public feud erupted between the governor and Mell. Tensions reached a flash point in January 2005, when Rod Blagojevich reportedly shut down a Joliet, Illinois, landfill owned by Patricia Blagojevich's second cousin.

Mell, in an interview with the Chicago-Sun Times, castigated Rod Blagojevich as someone who "uses everybody, and when there's no more use, he discards them." Mell further said that his daughter was wearing "blinders" and didn't realize her husband was a manipulative political animal who would "throw anyone under the bus."

Mell also leveled a flurry of allegations against his son-in-law's administration -- most notably that Rod Blagojevich's fundraising chief, Christopher Kelly, "trades appointments to commissions for checks for $50,000" to the governor's political fund, the newspaper reported.

Asked Wednesday if he would discuss his 2005 allegations, Mell responded via e-mail, "My main concern right now is for my daughter and grandchildren. I would rather not discuss this sad situation in the public venue at this time."

Reports vary on whether the family feud was ever laid to rest. Though fences were mended two years ago, after Mell's wife died of a terminal brain disease, the Sun-Times reported the bad feelings later resurfaced.

Though Mell did not accuse his daughter of improprieties in his well-publicized rant, Patricia Blagojevich has been the subject of scrutiny over her real estate deals, most notably those involving businessman Antoin Rezko.

Rezko, who was convicted in the summer on 16 counts, including fraud, money laundering and abetting bribery, is part of this week's allegations against Rod Blagojevich. Federal authorities allege Rezko is one of the conspirators with whom the governor schemed in what Fitzgerald called "a corruption crime spree."

The first lady, a licensed real estate broker and appraiser with an economics degree from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, has not been charged with wrongdoing.

Patricia Blagojevich's ties to Rezko came under fire after the Chicago Tribune in 2005 reported that 25 percent of her income in 2004 -- about $38,000 -- came via deals with Rezko, one of the governor's top fundraisers at the time. Aides to the governor said there was nothing nefarious about the business relationship.

In October, the Chicago Tribune reported that the first lady's home-based real estate firm, River Realty, had received about $700,000 in commissions since 2000, when Blagojevich began raising funds for his gubernatorial run. Of those commissions, the paper reported, about three-quarters came from "state contractors, family and others with political ties."

Among her associates, the Tribune reported, were William Cellini, a key player in the Rezko trial, and Anita Mahajan, who was charged in 2007 with bilking Illinois out of more than $2 million for drug-screening services her firm never performed. The paper reported that Mahajan's husband, Amrish, was a former Blagojevich fundraiser.

Despite the reported income, the federal affidavit outlining the charges against Rod Blagojevich states the governor was bemoaning his family's "financial stress" and expressing hope that Obama might help alleviate it.

A six-figure salary for serving on a corporate or nonprofit board would help the "struggling" family, he allegedly said, noting that Patricia Blagojevich's Series 7 license to sell securities makes her an apt candidate for such work.

The affidavit says the governor had harsh words for the president-elect should he not help the Blagojeviches. Calling Obama a "motherf---er," the governor scoffs incredulously at the idea of appointing his preferred candidate without a kickback, the affidavit says.

"For nothing? F--- him," he said, according to the affidavit.


The next day, the affidavit says, Rod Blagojevich firmly ruled out appointing Obama's preferred successor.

"They're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. F--- them," the affidavit quotes him as saying.

CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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