Drama marks strange death of Chris Kelly

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Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein |

Mystery in the Windy City

This one could be a television whodunit. And it is far from

Chris Kelly, 51, is – or was – a very well known figure
in Chicago, particularly among the high level people he hit up for money for
disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich. Kelly was in very deep for that
fiddling around, but got in even deeper with the feds when he lied to them about
his dealings with the IRS.

He was well known not only in Chicago, but in Vegas, where he
gambled heavily, and apparently not too successfully, running up some
substantial tabs.

He was found very ill in a lumber yard in Country Club Hills,
a southwest Chicago suburb, last Friday night, by a 30-year-old lady named
Clarissa Flores-Buhelos, who identified herself to police as Kelly’s
girlfriend. She said she pushed him to the passenger’s side of his messed up
Cadillac Escalade and drove him to a local hospital at 11:15 Friday night. He
was stabilized there by doctors, but that hospital had no trauma unit, and he
was transferred to another at 5:15 Saturday morning and died there five and a
half hours later. While there, an unidentified man showed up with a duplicate
set of keys for the Cadillac, but was prevented from driving off by police at
the hospital parking lot, who apparently did not bother to get his name.

Blagojevich, in New York to do a promotional blurb on Howard
Stern’s radio show for a book he has written, sent his deep regrets to Kelly’s
widow and three daughters. He owed them a few for the millions Kelly reportedly
raised for Blago during his campaigns. Kelly was not only Rod’s bag man, but
an inner circle guy, so much so that one former high Democratic officeholder,
now practicing his trade as a lawyer, reportedly turned around and walked out of
a requested private meeting with Blagojevich when, to his surprise, he found
Kelly sitting in the room. The governor supposedly told the lawyer, “You
can say anything in front of Chris.” The lawyer decided otherwise.

That incident was reported by Carol Marin, a Chicago
writer who has followed the Kelly story closely. In fact, she
interviewed him last Wednesday, a day after he admitted that he paid $450,000 in
kickbacks to a consultant to inflate contracts on roofing work at the United and
American airlines hangers at O’Hare Field. Marin reported that, “He
looked like a man with an anvil on his head.” She did not say a price, and
to the contrary she suggested the troubles with the feds may have led to his
death. Her Monday column was headed, “Did pressure from feds help kill
Chris Kelly?”

There certainly was enough to do so. He had pled guilty to
concealing $1.3 million in income, including money from his BCI Commercial
Roofing company, supposedly to pay for his gambling debts, and to participating
in an $8.5 million fraud against United and American for work done by his firm
at O’Hare Field. He was due to report to jail this Friday, for a three-year
stay on the IRS charges, and faced another five years for the O’Hare fraud.

In her follow-up story Monday, Ms. Marin said she asked
former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, who sent former Illinois governor
George Ryan to jail, if he ever recalled a federal suspect being charged three
times. He said he did not and thought it unprecedented.

While Marin did not suggest foul play, another writer, Andrew
Belonsky, did. He wrote, “there are shades of Vince Foster in all of
this,” and added, “We won’t go so far to say there was a conspiracy,
because that would be downright melodramatic,” but he made sure he opened
that book. His comments, for the record, appeared in a New York-based blog
called gawker.com, with a sidebar titled, “The Triumphant Return of
Lindsay’s Nether Region,” meaning Lindsey Lohan. You take it from there.

Back in Chicago, it turns out Kelly was comatose when his
lady friend found him. He supposedly talked about ingesting pills to a cop, and
the girlfriend told police she had been exchanging text messages with Kelly that
evening, which is how she found him, and she would be happy to talk to them
about it this week.

She also made sure she called her lawyer, one Terry
Gillespie, who was deeply unhappy with all of the talking to media done by the
mayor of Country Club Hills, Dwight Welch. The mayor had not mentioned the
scheduled meeting of Ms. Flores-Buhelos with police, and Gillespie told Sun
reporters that “Apparently the mayor was too busy giving news
conferences” to check with his police department, and he told the reporters
that his client “has nothing to hide and she’s devastated by the whole

He also told them, “The mayor’s a jackass. You can
print that.” And they did.

We told you this one is a natural for television. Maybe even
the big screen.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Stan Bergstein

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