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Local

NIU says no evidence Blago influenced admissions

Northern Illinois University officials said Friday that they have found no evidence that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich or any of his friends used political clout to help gain admission for certain students.

NIU is one of three state universities – along with the University of Illinois system and Southern Illinois University – that was subpoenaed in June by the U.S. attorney’s office, which was seeking records to determine whether the former governor improperly exercised clout in admitting favored students.

“We did an extensive review and turned up nothing,” NIU spokeswoman Melanie Magara said.

The subpoena asked for NIU to provide records from 2002 through Dec. 9, 2008, including correspondences and e-mails, “related to Rod Blagojevich, William Cellini, Antoin ‘Tony’ Rezko, Chris Kelley, or Alonzo Monk, in relation to any student, including in relation to the admission of any student or prospective student.”

Ken Davidson, general counsel for NIU, said he looked at admissions records and computer files, and also spoke with university employees, to see if they remembered being contacted about making special admissions.

“There was nothing that was responsive to theá subpoena,” Davidson said. “... I didn’t expect to find anything but I didn’t know until we went looking.”

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who already is prosecuting Blagojevich for political corruption, is seeking any communication Blagojevich and four former associates had regarding student applications at the three schools, officials said.

Fitzgerald’s interest comes after recent media reports revealed that the U of I kept a separate list of applicants with political connections, some of whom were admitted over more qualified hopefuls.

NIU did find one set of records involving a parent with a “coincidentally similar name as one of those named in the subpoena,” according to a letter dated Aug. 6 by Davidson to the Chicago branch of the United States Attorney’s Office.

But NIU consulted with the FBI and concluded it was not a person the grand jury was interested in because he had a different address and phone number, according to the letter. Davidson declined to identify the name, noting doing so would be a violation of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

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