A former Chicago city employee now suffering from advanced Parkinson's disease was indicted Friday on charges that he lied to a grand jury to cover up a "no-show" job with former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski.
Signaling the government's intent to aggressively pursue corruption charges against the Illinois Democrat, a federal grand jury indicted Robert Russo, 58, with one count each of perjury and obstruction of justice.If he is convicted, the maximum penalty for each charge is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Rostenkowski allegedly paid Russo $90,000 over an 11-year period for cleaning his campaign and ward offices. He is one of 14 people alleged to have done little or no official work for Rostenkowski, who faces a 17-count felony corruption indictment.
The indictment alleged the congressman paid more than $500,000 in fraudulant salaries from 1971 to 1992.
Last week, another of those 14 "ghost employees" pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice by lying to a grand jury in connection with his work for Rostenkowski.
But Russo's lawyer, Raymond Banoun, said his client would not follow suit because he had done legitimate work.
"This guy is almost 60 years old and suffering from advanced Parkinson's disease," Banoun said.
"I really think this whole indictment is not only unfortunate and pretty misguided, it is returned for one purpose and one purpose only. And that is to put pressure on Congressman Rostenkowski."
Banoun said the government had offered not to indict Russo if he "would agree to a set of facts, which he would not agree to."
Thomas M. Buchanan, one of Rostenkowski's lawyers, characterized the indictment as a maneuver to pressure the so-called "ghost employees" into cooperating by threatening them with prison.
"The facts will show this individual did legitimate work and was paid accordingly," Buchanan said.
The perjury count charges that Russo lied to the grand jury on Sept. 21, 1993, by claiming that he knew of no one else who cleaned the office and that he worked five days a week, every other week.
The obstruction of justice charge says Russo deliberately withheld evidence from the grand jury.