by Srdja Trifkovic
A shady «lobbying» deal the Government of Serbia has signed with ex-Gov. Rod Blagoyevich's top money man Milan Petrovic and his Chicagobased APS Inc. has been attracting attention for months. That attention has increased recently, in view of accusations against Bishop Artemije that he has misspent funds for lobbying in Washington. Compared to the apparent misuse of lobbying funds by the Government of Serbia, however, the accusations against Artemije pale into insignifi cance. According to the Belgrade daily Borba, “Serbia’s lobbying in America is in reality a well oiled scheme for private misappropriation of money which belongs to the citizens of Serbia.” In view of its signifi cance for the Serbian-American community we have decided to acquaint our readers with the known facts of this case, which has all the makings of a political scandal in Serbia itself.
Who Is Milan Petrovic? – As the Chicago Sun-Times reported on April 10, 2008, Petrovic was then-Governor Rod Blagojevich’s top fundraiser: over the years, Petrovic had raised over $1.9 million for the Governor, or half a million more than Tony Rezko, convicted on several counts of fraud and bribery in 2008. To be precise, during Rezko’s trial, FBI Special Agent William Willenborg testified that Petrovic raised $1,963,485 for Blagojevich, outpacing Rezko, who raised a mere $1,437,350
According to the Chicago Tribune, “By the time Blagojevich came to power in 2003, lobbying the hospital board had grown into a fertile business… the field was also saturated with lobbyists from Blagojevich’s orbit [including] Milan Petrovic, a friend and fundraiser of the governor.” Illinois Issues magazine, published by the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Springfield, noted that “Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s main re-election platform made the spotlight again when the Sun-Times reported the state’s new All Kids health insurance program awarded a major contract to McKesson Health Solutions. The company is reportedly represented by a Chicago lobbying firm, Advanced Practical Solutions, led by Blagojevich’s top political fund-raiser, Milan Petrovic.”
The Belgrade daily Borba reported on August 13, 2009, that Milan Petrovic was “involved in numerous affairs and in the state of Indiana he was even disbarred.“ A great unknown in his career, the paper went on, was the deal he signed with the international giant CH2M Hill:
“CH2M Hill suddenly decided in 2004 to become an APS client, although Petrovic’s firm APS was founded only a year earlier, as a beginner lobbying group. Why the giant... firm chose Petrovic as an intermediary, although he was drowning in debt, remains unknown to this day. It is noteworthy that Petrovic sought bankruptcy protection on April 5, 2001, and on May 23 of that year he surrendered his law licence to the Indiana Bar because he was under investigation by the Indiana Supreme Court. He admitted knowing of the investigation and that he ‘acknowledges the material facts so alleged are true’ and that he would not be able to launch a successful defense if he was indicted. The facts of that case were sealed by the Indiana court and they are not known to the public... Blagojevich’s ’money man’ donated $20,000 in 2006 to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s re-election campaign.“
As Bloomberg reported on April 24 of last year („Blagojevich Fundraiser Represented Firm in New Mexico Probe"), a client of Petrovic, CDR Financial Products Inc., was under investigation in a federal pay-to-play probe in New Mexico.
“Milan Petrovic, who raised $1.96 million for Blagojevich, introduced CDR to Illinois budget and debt officials, according to e-mails obtained under a public records request. He and his lobbying firm also donated $20,000 to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a one-time Democratic presidential candidate who withdrew from consideration as U.S. Commerce Secretary following disclosure of the CDR probe. Richardson ‘is a public official I admire,’ Petrovic, 43, said in a telephone interview, declining to comment further… In Illinois, Petrovic has also represented Stratton & Associates, a Denver-based consulting firm run by a senior political adviser to Richardson, state lobbying records show. Stratton lobbied on CDR’s behalf in New Mexico, according to William Sisneros, chief executive officer of the New Mexico Finance Authority… Petrovic and his firm, Chicago-based Advanced Practical Solutions, contributed $20,000 to Richardson’s campaign and political action committees in 2004 and 2005, New Mexico political finance records show. Petrovic’s friends, business associates and clients donated at least $50,500 to Richardson.”
Regarding that CH2M Hill contract, there is no real mystery. In a detailed report on Petrovic („A Closer Look at Blagojevich’s Top Money Man“), nwi.com reported on December 21, 2008, that on Nov. 30, 2006, the Illinois Toll Highway Authority gave CH2M Hill a $2.26 million contract to do a master plan development for the Northwest Tollway, and in 2007, the Chicago Tribune reported the firm got $11 million in tollway contracts.
The Plus Side – To his credit, Milan Petrovic appears to be a strong proponent of ethnic diversity. In 2008 one Shqipe Osmani of Chicago, an employee of Advanced Practical Solutions (ABS), was listed as making a donation of $2,300 to Hillary Clinton. This clearly indicates that, whatever Petrovic may be accused of, he should not be accused of any Serbian nationalist bias -- not only in his hiring practices but also in indirect support for Mrs. Clinton, who boasts of having nagged her husband into bombing Serbia in 1999. The same Shqipe Osmani was listed as donating $7,750 in political contributions in 2004, which indicates not only commendable employee loyalty in the fluid lobbying environment, but also an enviable level of discretionary income some ABS employees seem to enjoy.
The Reaction in Serbia – According to the Belgrade daily Borba, „Serbia’s lobbying in America is in reality a well developed scheme for private misappropriation of money which belongs to the citizens of Serbia.“ The paper commented the deal with Petrovic on July 27 of last year by saying that the Government of Serbia was paying „obscure firms and second-rate politicians, and that at the same time the public in Serbia knows nothing about the activities of these so-called lobbyists, or their results, and especially not about the way in which huge sums of money are being spent“:
“Two main outfits for this deal are the above-mentioned firm of... Milan Petrovi? and ‘30 Point Strategies LLC,’ which taken together cost Serbia $145.000 each month, or $1.74 million a year. To make it all even more suspicious, through those agencies other firms are paid too, such as ’Prairie Avenue Advisers [sic!] LLC,’ which cannot be found on the Internet, with one interesting detail: when its name is entered on... Google, it automatically corrects the last word to advisors, which merely shows that the person creating this firm in Chicago even does not speak good English.“
The paper added that Serbian taxpayers’ money has been paid to „candidates“ from Illinois, including one Footlik Jay [ed.: defeated by Dan Seals in the 2008 Democratic primary in the 10th District]. It pointed out that the contract with Petrovic’s firm was signet by Tamara Stoj?evi?, secretary-general of the Government of Serbia, on 30 April 2009, on the same day when the Government approved it. The first payment was made and the contract registered with the U.S. Department of Justice (No. 5933) already the following day, „while the gullible citizens of Serbia were firing their grills for the long May Day weekend.“ According to the paper, the deal with Petrovic was arranged in 2008 at the Democratic Party Convention in Denver by Srdjan Šaper, a trusted member of President Boris Tadic’s inner circle, who represented Serbia’s ruling Democratic Party at the Convention.
Outrage Across the Spectrum - Serbia’s opposition politicians were outraged. For once they were united in their indignation across the entire political spectrum, from the far left to the far right.
Read rest of column in Liberty