December 12, 2008 -- For years, John Wyma has been one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's closest allies. He served as Blagojevich's chief of staff in Congress and was a key advisor in his 2002 campaign for governor. When his former boss took over the statehouse, Wyma remained a central fundraiser and counselor, but also had Blagojevich's ear as a lobbyist. But now this longtime advisor and old friend has become one of the most significant cooperators in the government's efforts to put Blagojevich behind bars.
Wyma, 41, was close to much of the alleged wrongdoing during the feds' five-year probe, and he remains a subject of the government's investigation into the Illinois Health Planning Facilities Board, according to the criminal complaint for Blagojevich. But Wyma's turn from confidant to informant ultimately inched prosecutors to the governor's most recent -- and most brazen -- alleged attempts to trade political favors for campaign cash, the complaint states.
A fixture of the Blagojevich's inner circle, Wyma as a lobbyist routinely traveled with the governor, flying with him during official state trips more than a dozen times during his first term, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
A friend of the governor for more than a decade, on the day before his arrest Blagojevich told reporters he and Wyma talked football the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
"You can't get much closer than they are to each other," said Rich Miller who runs the Illinois political insider blog Capitol Fox. "[Wyma's] a lobbyist but he's almost never in Springfield lobbying legislators. He virtually only lobbies the governor at his home in Chicago."
Wyma could not be reached for comment, despite multiple calls and visits to his office and addresses listed in his name. His attorney, former federal prosecutor Zachary Fardon, who helped put former Illinois Governor George Ryan in jail, said in an email statement today that "There are news stories indicating that my client, John Wyma, is "Individual A" in the criminal complaint against Governor Rod Blagojevich. Mr. Wyma has made efforts to provide federal investigators with truthful information regarding the matters under investigation and will continue to do so. Out of respect for the ongoing process, we are making no further statements related to these matters at this time."
Those efforts began just months ago, in October, when, according to the criminal complaint released in the wake of the governor 's arrest Tuesday, Wyma -- believed to be the person identified in documents only as Individual A -- began talking with the FBI. The timing hardly seems a coincidence: it dovetails with the weeks, according to published accounts, that Wyma was named in a subpoena sent to former client Provena Health. The hospital company had donated money to the governor 's campaign shortly after receiving a favorable ruling.
Whatever his role in the hospital donations, Wyma's cooperation soon proved fruitful to prosecutors. According to the criminal complaint, Wyma is one of the key sources to the source of the tip that Blagojevich is using the final months of the year to raise funds through payoffs before the new state ethics law goes into effect in January. That law would sharply limit any individual or entity with state contracts worth more than $50,000 from donating to the governor's campaign coffers.
Though Wyma, according to the complaint, declined requests to wear a wire, he met with prosecutors numerous times to detail key instances of alleged payoffs he witnessed firsthand. Blagojevich's goal, according to Wyma, was to raise a total of $2.5 million before the end of the year, primarily from individuals identified on the list by Friends of Blagojevich.
For instance, he explained how on Oct. 6, he and someone identified as Individual B met with the governor and his now charged chief of staff John Harris about whether the governor could help Individual B's business venture, according to the complaint. Following the meeting, the governor allegedly asked Wyma to get Individual B to raise $100,000 for Friends of Blagojevich before the end of the year.
Wyma also allegedly detailed a planned deal with someone identified as Highway Contractor 1, the complaint states. This plan was hatched that same day when, following the meeting with Individual B, Blagojevich said that he would be announcing a $1.8 billion project involving the Tollway Authority. The governor said that a Lobbyist 1 was going to ask Highway Contractor 1 to raise $500,000 for the same fund. "I could have made a larger announcement but wanted to see how they perform by the end of the year. If they don't perform, f*** 'em," the governor allegedly said, indicating, in Wyma's belief, that he could allocate more money for the Tollway if Highway Contractor 1 raised enough cash.
Donations and State Funds
A few days later, Blagojevich sought out donations from the chief executive of Children's Memorial Hospital, the complaint states Wyma told investigators."I'm going to do $8 million for them. I want to get [Hospital Executive 1] for 50," Blagojevich allegedly told Wyma, according to the complaint. In other words, he planned to give the hospital $8 million in state reimbursement funds in exchange for a contribution from the head of the hospital. There is no indication that the executive actually paid the money and in fact Blagojevich appeared to get upset that the donation was not coming in. A spokesperson for the hospital said in a statement that "if such allegations are true, Children's Memorial, pediatric physicians and the children of Illinois have been victimized." She said the company is fully cooperating with investigators.
Despite all of Wyma's recent efforts to help the feds, he was a close ally of Blagojevich during much of the scandal. Wyma had spent close to a decade on the Hill when he joined Blagojevich as chief of staff after his election in 1996. He served until early 2000 when he joined New York Sen. Charles Schumer as chief of staff. He worked there until fall 2001, when he joined Fleischman & Walsh and began his career as a lobbyist.
Over and over, companies seeking state funds turned to Wyma. According to the Illinois Secretary of State's Office, Wyma represented more than 50 clients including firms that had contracts to run pieces of the state lottery and provide standardized tests to public schools.
"These companies are buying access to the governor," said Miller. "But he's not just a lobbyist; he's also one of the governor's closest advisors. While he's giving the governor advice, and raising money for him, he's also lobbying for these companies issues."
Aide to Lobbyist
The relationship between the governor and his friend-turned-lobbyist was heavily scrutinized during Blagojevich's second run for governor in 2006, when critics saw the relationship as a reversal of his 2002 promise to change the "business as usual" cronyism of Illinois politics.
"It's not illegal for a close aide to become a lobbyist," said Cindi Canary, the executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a corruption watchdog group. "But that's because nothing is illegal in Illinois. There is a revolving door from the governor's inner circle to those working for lobbyist groups."
Federal investigators delivered a subpoena to Provena Health, which sought records about the company's lobbying relationship with Wyma, and the subsequent donation, the Chicago Tribune first reported in October.
At the time, Blagojevich denied any wrong doing. Calls by ABC News to Provena Health were not returned. A company spokesperson told the Tribune in October that "We are not parties of interest here," in reference to the subpoenas. The suspicious Provena donation may have first tipped federal investigators, but critics of the governor have long noted that many of Wyman's clients have secured lucrative government contracts.
"This has been going on for at least five years," said Canary. "Every company he's ever represented needs to be scrutinized."