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December 12, 2008
Nils Larsen, close Zell associate, may have agreed to Blago extortion demand
A close associate of Chicago Tribune chairman Sam Zell has been confirmed as the middleman who heard out and perhaps even agreed to Blagojevich’s terms that in exchange for help in Springfield with the sale of the Chicago Cubs, Zell would fire members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board because of their pointed editorials against the governor.
Blagojevich, upset with editorials that were critical of his actions, allegedly hatched a plan to get editorial writers fired. In November, Blagojevich and Harris reached out to Larsen, identified in court records as "Tribune Financial Adviser."
According to the criminal complaint, Blagojevich instructed Harris to tell Larsen changes needed to be made to the editorial board or the governor would block money for Wrigley Field renovations.
Larsen is Zell's point man on efforts to sell the Chicago Cubs. Tribune Co. owns the Cubs and the newspaper.
Court documents portray Blagojevich as eager to exploit Tribune Co.'s financial problems.
Tribune Co. has been in discussions with the state over the sale of Wrigley Field, which could mean as much as $100 million for the company. Zell has sought to sell the Cubs and use the proceeds to pay down debt associated with his takeover of Tribune Co., which filed for bankruptcy protection this week.
Blagojevich suggested his aides take the issue head-on and that someone might want to talk directly to Zell.
Whether Larsen ever attempted to apply pressure to Tribune officials remained unclear.
The Trib has received a subpoena asking for “memos about potential staff cuts or changes to the Chicago Tribune editorial board,” according to one source.
The cowardly Zell, who was seeking a $150 million capital gains tax abatement from the IL Finance Authority, may have agreed to the extortion according to a phone call between Blago staff chief John Harris and the governor on November 21 that was taped by the Feds.