On Thursday, September 21, Gov. Rod Blagojevich made his first publicly scheduled appearance in Chicago in two weeks. He has recently been under public scrutiny for accepting a check for $1,500 in his daughter’s name, shortly after “finding” a government job for his best friend’s under-qualified wife. His defense for accepting the “gift” has been disconcerting, to say the least. On September 8, 2006, the office of Blagojevich offered this statement: “Mike Ascaridis and Gov. Blagojevich met over forty years ago when the governor was eight years old. They have been best friends ever since. Mike is like a second brother to the governor and like a godparent to the governor’s kids. Mike was a member of the governor’s wedding party and a pallbearer at the funerals of both of the governor’s parents. Their families are extremely close, and like most close friends, they have exchanged gifts over the years. The idea that, all of a sudden, a birthday gift that Mike gave to Amy is connected to anything but Amy’s birthday is simply ludicrous. It is an outrage that we even have to answer this question.”

Michael Ascaridis backed the governor’s explanations issuing a statement of his own. On September 8, he stated, “I had given Amy various gifts since she was born ten years ago. I gave her a birthday gift for a college fund because of my relationship with Amy and a lifelong friendship with the Blagojevich family.”

Although the actions and statements of both the Ascaridis family members and Gov. Blagojevich appear legit, Gov. Blagojevich’s statements yesterday regarding this matter heightened public suspicion. Two weeks ago, when questioned by reporters whether or not Blagojevich had anything to do with the special treatment Beverly Ascaridis received in her miraculous acquisition of a state job, Gov. Blagojevich answered, “No.” Yesterday, Gov. Blagojevich contradicted himself by stating he knew Beverly Ascaridis was seeking state work in 2003. He passed her information on to his then-chief of staff, Lon Monk. “I suggested to my chief of staff to see if he can find something that fits her qualifications, that’s all I know.” So in two weeks time his degree of involvement has changed. Hmmm. That’s not all that’s changed, for yesterday Gov. Blagojevich also displayed an uncertainty regarding the purpose of the $1,500 check. He stated, “The year of this birthday gift or christening gift or whatever it was, was the year our baby Annie was born. And it was probably the time when Annie was christened down in Springfield and my best friend and his wife [the Ascaridises], we’re like family, were at the christening. My guess is that gift was in a card, that’s my guess. It’s not something I think about.”

Another discrepancy in the case rises because Federal ethics law requires the governor to disclose any gifts he receives in access of $250. Gov. Blagojevich never reported receiving gifts from the Ascaridis while he served in Congress from 1997 to 2003. In fact, it wasn’t until last year, when Gov. Blagojevich amended his 2003 ethics disclosure forms, that the Ascaridis are listed as people who provided gifts that exceeded $500 to the governor. Conveniently, the Acaridis family did not return phone calls yesterday, and were unavailable for comment.

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