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Columnist
When Blagojevich saw himself destined to be president
By Chuck Goudie | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 7/12/2010 12:01 AM

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After hearing Milorad Blagojevich's world views so fluently expressed on FBI tape recordings, it is much easier to accept the plot of "Transformers 3," currently being filmed in Chicago.

The movie sequel is about robots from outer space having been the cause of the Cold War.

So as the movie is being shot in Chicago (the known-center of the robot world, outer space and the Cold War) hearing the batty Blagojevich talk on tape about his desire to be president doesn't seem so far-fetched.

When Blagojevich held office, he actually operated as if he was the president of the United States.

I first started questioning his inflated sense of his own importance a year and a half after he was elected. It was July 2004, six years ago this month, at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. This was before Barack Obama had become the patron saint of Illinois. At the time, Rod Blagojevich was still a big deal who had a plan to get to the White House.

As I was camped out at the Illinois delegation hotel looking for a news story, a caravan of black Sports Utility Vehicles rolled up in front. It was Gov. Milorad and the First Family.

Out stepped the governor and wife Patty, looking as though they were in command and control.

The familiar men in dark suits and sunglasses quickly moved the Blagojevich's into the hotel without incident. Then the security team began unloading suitcases, baby strollers and other necessities for the First Family's stay.

But something wasn't right about the scene that day. The vehicles that were in the Blagojevich motorcade all had Illinois license plates. And they were in Boston where Blagojevich and other Democratic governors had all been provided with Massachusetts state troopers and official vehicles.

But that wasn't enough for the Illinois governor, who didn't want to travel in the style of other state leaders. He was a president-in-waiting.

That scene in Boston was the beginning of a six-month investigation by the ABC 7 I-Team that resulted in changes in the way Illinois governors are "protected" and also provided the first significant look at the ways Blagojevich operated at taxpayers' expense.

He turned a once-respected, elite bodyguard unit of the Illinois State Police into his own dress-up version of the Secret Service.

When we asked Mr. Blagojevich about why he needed Illinois cars in Boston, his press secretary told us that eight Blagojevich bodyguards drove three state vehicles to Boston.

We knew that wasn't true because we had copies of state police expense accounts that showed there were more cars and officers and that some drove and some flew.

It was all part of Blagojevich's elaborate vision of himself and his future. He spent thousands in state tax dollars having Illinois government SUVs driven across the United States, just so he could be picked up at distant airports in vehicles with flashing police lights and sirens.

In one of the most eye-opening news investigations ever of an Illinois politician, we followed Blagojevich on a 2004 trip to California, where his entourage included 10 bodyguards and six Illinois State Police vehicles.

Members of the governor's detail say that three vehicles were driven by troopers from Illinois to Southern California and three others were driven from Illinois to Northern California.

The governor and other guards flew in and were picked up at the airport in Illinois state cars. Their first stop was Beverly Hills where the governor attended a political fundraiser. He and his detail stayed at the five-star Peninsula Hotel. The next stop was Sonoma, north of San Francisco, where the governor met up with his family, having all been picked up at the Oakland airport by Illinois cars.

The Blagojevich family stayed in a $1,100 a night villa in the wine country. They were there to attend the wedding of the governor's chief of staff. That chief of staff was Alonzo "Lon" Monk, who six years later would plead guilty in the Blagojevich corruption case and testify against him.

After the wedding of his chief of staff, our surveillance showed Blagojevich at his best.

"The governor's detail whisked him out of town, zigzagging in and out of traffic. At one point in California, his Illinois cars and Illinois police guards even blockaded a Sonoma County intersection so the governor's caravan could cruise through," we reported.

The state police officers, some who made more than $100,000 per year, had more nominal duties as well. They were keepers of Blago's prized hairbrush known on his security detail as "the football." They also handed out Halloween candy for the First Family and delivered their dry cleaning.

A top state police officer who supervised Blagojevich's bodyguards said in a deposition that their paramount duty was to prevent him from suffering "any type of embarrassment."

Illinois voters responded by re-electing Blagojevich in 2006.

Robots from outer space must have controlled the election.

• Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by e-mail at chuckgoudie@gmail.com and followed at twitter.com/ChuckGoudie