Convicted Illinois Governor Sentenced to 14 Years

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich became the state’s second chief executive in a row to be sentenced to federal prison for corruption.  Blagojevich, who – among other charges was convicted of attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s Senate set to the highest bidder – was sentenced to a stiff 14-year sentence in a federal prison.  He must report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on February 16, 2012.

Blagojevich’s predecessor, George Ryan, is currently serving a 6 ½-year sentence at a federal prison in Terre Haute, IN, also for corruption.

“The governor was not marched along this path by his staff.  He marched them,” Zagel said before he imposed the sentence.  Blagojevich governed the fifth-most populous state from January 2003 until his impeachment and removal from office in January of 2009.  He had been arrested the previous month for what Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald called “a political corruption crime spree.”  Blagojevich was convicted on 17 counts in a trial that ended in June.  An earlier jury deadlocked on 23 of the 24 counts it considered, but found the ex-governor guilty of lying to federal agents.

Blagojevich admitted to the judge that he made “terrible mistakes” and acknowledged that he broke the law in his attempt to sell the Senate seat.  His attorneys admitted for the first time that Blagojevich is guilty of corruption.  The defense also presented sincere appeals from Blagojevich’s family, including letters from his wife Patti and one of his two daughters, that pleaded for mercy.  But the judge made it clear that he believed that Blagojevich had lied on the witness stand when he tried to explain his scheming for the Senate seat, and he did not believe defense suggestions that the former governor was duped by his advisers.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar wasn’t impressed by Blagojevich’s emotional plea.  “He is incredibly manipulative and he knows how to be,” Schar said.  “To his credit he’s clever about it.  Judge, the defendant is corrupt, he was corrupt the day he took office, he was corrupt until the day he was arrested,” Schar said.  “Judge, the people have had enough.  They have had enough of this defendant.  They have had enough of people like him.”  The lengthy legal ordeal began when President Obama’s U.S. Senate seat became available upon his election.  Wiretaps of Blagojevich were recorded saying that Obama’s seat was “f — ing golden” and that it wouldn’t go “for f — ing nothing.”

So now what does Blagojevich do? He’ll spend the holidays with his family.  Next, his legal team will ask Judge Zagel to choose a prison, preferably in the Midwest, said Kent College Law professor Richard Kling.  Because the sentence is more than 10 years, he’ll be classified in a low-security prison with double-fence razor wire.

Judge Zagel sternly told Blagojevich that “abuse of the office of governor is more damaging than the abuse of any office in the United States except for president.  “I cannot comprehend that even if you are guilty,” Zagel said.  “You don’t think you caused harm to Illinois.”

“Blagojevich betrayed the trust and faith that Illinois voters placed in him, feeding great public frustration, cynicism and disengagement among citizens,” Fitzgerald said.  “People have the right to expect that their elected leaders will honor the oath they swear to, and this sentence shows that the justice system will stand up to protect their expectations.”  “This sentence sends a clear message that public officials cannot engage in corruption for personal benefit in exchange for political favors,” said James Vanderberg, special agent-in-charge of the Chicago Regional Office of Inspector General.

If Judge Zagel has any second thoughts about the sentence, he can take satisfaction in the fact that some of the jurors from the corruption trials approve of the 14-year sentence.  James Matsumoto, the jury foreman from the first trial, said he and other jurors were “satisfied” by the sentence.  John McParland, a juror at the second trial, saw a less-cocky Blagojevich today but wasn’t certain the former governor in fact apologized for his actions.  “He’s like two different men,” McParland said.  “His apology was a little circumspect,” according to Matsumoto.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Blagojevich won’t be eligible for release until early 2024 when he will be 67 years old.  Additionally, Blagojevich is planning to appeal his sentence, a process that could take years.