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Mysteries remain in Blago aide Chris Kelly's death
Purported girlfriend of ex-aide expected to talk to police today
By Marco Santana | Daily Herald Staff

Christopher Kelly

 

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Published: 9/12/2009 4:05 PM | Updated: 9/14/2009 7:46 AM

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The woman who drove ex-Rod Blagojevich aide Christopher Kelly to the hospital after an apparent suicide attempt will talk to the Country Club Hills Police Department on Monday morning.

Mayor Dwight Welch said police hope the interview with Clarissa Flores-Buhelos will help tie up some of the many loose ends in the case, including how Flores-Buhelos reached the lumberyard where she found Kelly slouched over in his Cadillac Escalade late Friday, and the content of text and phone conversations between the two in the hours before Kelly's death.

Police also want to question at least one man, possibly two, connected to the events surrounding Kelly's death. Another unanswered question is the official cause of death, which won't be available for weeks, according to officials at the Cook County Medical Examiner's office.

Kelly, 51, of Burr Ridge, was pronounced dead at 10:46 a.m. Saturday at John H. Stroger Hospital in Chicago. He was originally brought to Oak Forest Hospital at about 11:15 p.m. Friday by Flores-Buhelos, who identified herself as his girlfriend, after she found him at the lumberyard at 173rd and Cicero in Country Club Hills. Kelly, the former chief fundraiser for ousted Gov. Blagojevich, was married to another woman.

Police found painkillers in Kelly's vehicle, but Welch would not say if they were prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Kelly's death is thought to have been caused by an overdose, police said.

The Cook County medical examiner's office conducted an autopsy Sunday, but officials said the cause of death for Kelly won't be determined for another three to six weeks, when toxicology results become available.

Welch stressed that police still consider the case an attempted suicide, but that they have elevated the investigation to the level of a homicide because of Kelly's high profile, as well as some facts about the case that don't add up.

"Quite frankly, we're not being given a whole lot of truths," he said.

Welch said a man sat in the waiting room with Flores-Buhelos as doctors tended to Kelly at Oak Forest Hospital. Later, a man with a set of keys arrived at Oak Forest Hospital looking to claim Kelly's Escalade. He was refused and left the hospital. Welch said it is uncertain whether the two men are the same person.

At a news conference Sunday, Welch displayed Flores-Buhelos' driver's license, which was found in Kelly's vehicle along with her wallet. He said the 24 hours preceding Kelly's death are the focus of piecing the case together. That includes text messages and phone calls between Flores-Buhelos and Kelly.

Flores-Buhelos has hired prominent Chicago attorney Terry Gillespie, who arranged today's meeting with officials. A message left with Gillespie's answering service was not returned.

Kelly's death comes just days after he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nearly three years in federal prison in a corruption case having to do with work his roofing company did at O'Hare International Airport. And in June, he received another prison sentence of 37 months on charges related to deceiving the IRS about income.

Kelly was to report to prison Sept. 18, reported The Associated Press, which also said he had resisted government pressure to reveal anything he knew about corruption under Blagojevich.

U.S. attorney spokesman Randall Samborn declined to comment again on Sunday. The U.S. Attorney's Office is prosecuting the Blagojevich case, as it did Kelly's other cases.

Kelly's lawyer, Michael Monico, also had no comment Sunday. He added that Kelly's family was not yet ready to comment.

In addition to the two federal cases Kelly already had been sentenced in, he faced indictment in the wide-ranging Blagojevich corruption case that includes allegations the former governor tried to sell or trade the appointment to fill Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat.

The indictment alleges Kelly demanded that financial firms hoping to manage a portion of the state's Teachers Retirement System fund first donate to Blagojevich's campaign fund. He had pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy, fraud conspiracy, extortion conspiracy and attempted extortion charges.

Patrick Collins, a former federal prosecutor who led the corruption case against former Gov. George Ryan, said Kelly was under intense pressure, and in fact said so at his most recent court hearing. But said he believes prosecutors initially will be stunned by Kelly's death.

"As a father of four, my first thought was about his family and not about the government's case," Collins said. "I have to believe the prosecutor's first thought is not, '... This has hurt my case,' but, 'What a sad, terrible tragedy.'"

Kelly wasn't likely crucial to the government's case against Blagojevich, said Collins, who is now in private practice and has not had a role in the investigation. He pointed out several insiders already are talking to investigators, including Kelly's partner in fundraising, Tony Rezko, and Blagojevich's former chief of staff, John Harris.

A suburban roofing contractor, Kelly became a key fundraiser and consultant to the former governor, at one point serving as chief of the Friends of Rod Blagojevich fund and as Blagojevich's emissary to the Illinois Gaming Board.

In the years surrounding his work as Blagojevich's point man on gambling, Kelly was making millions of dollars in bets through an illegal bookkeeper, a 2007 indictment claimed.

On Tuesday, he agreed to serve 57 months in prison as part of a plea deal to charges stemming from a scheme to overcharge American Airlines and United Airlines for roofing work at O'Hare. Under the deal, Kelly admitted to paying $450,000 in kickbacks in order to secure an $8.5 million contract, from which he netted a $2.5 million profit. Kelly said he used some of those funds to pay off gambling debts.

In June he received a 37-month prison sentence on charges he tried to deceive the U.S. Internal Revenue Service by structuring transactions to avoid reporting requirements and impeding the agency's efforts to assess his true income.

Blagojevich was in New York, where he has been promoting his new book, when he heard the news.

"I am deeply saddened to hear that Chris has died," Blagojevich said in a statement Saturday afternoon. "My heart goes out to his wife Carmen, (his three daughters) and his entire family. They are in our prayers."

• Daily Herald Staff Writers Kim Mikus, Charles Keeshan, Deborah Donovan, Joseph Ryan, John Patterson, Russell Lissau and Steve Zalusky and wire services contributed to this report.