CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois Democrat appointed by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to a U.S. Senate in 2008 has become an issue in the lead-up to a federal trial in Chicago, with defense attorneys claiming Roland Burris was once accused of seeking to extort a business.
Word about such an allegation against the 77-year-old Burris, who held the Senate seat from 2009 to 2010, arose during a pre-trial hearing Friday for a Chicago man charged with illegally lobbying U.S. lawmakers to lift sanctions against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Prosecutors have indicated they will call Burris to testify against C. Gregory Turner, who has pleaded not guilty. Defense lawyers are attempting to dent the former senator’s credibility. The trial starts Monday.
Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison term on multiple corruption convictions, including for trying to secure campaign cash or a high-paying job for an appointment to the Senate seat, which was vacated by Barack Obama after he won the 2008 presidential election.
Amid a political firestorm following his December 2008 arrest, then-Gov. Blagojevich, who is also a Democrat, named Burris to the seat. Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, was widely ridiculed for accepting the appointment.
Turner’s attorneys said in court Friday that the extortion allegation against Burris was described in federal documents that prosecutors turned over to the defense as part of the pre-trial discovery process.
A message left for Burris at his Chicago law firm wasn’t immediately returned Friday night and he does not have a listed home number.