After hearing his apology and emotional pleas for leniency, a federal judge sentenced ousted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in prison Wednesday.
Judge James Zagel said abuse in the office of governor was more important than any other office besides the president. Harm is measured not in dollars, Zagel said, but in lost trust in the government.
After the sentence, a muted Blagojevich spoke briefly before leaving court. He was joined by his wife, who had tears streaming down her face.
“Rudyard Kipling, in his poem 'If,' among the things he wrote, was ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same,’” Blagojevich said. “Patti and I, and especially me, this is a time to be strong. This is a time to fight through adversity. This is a time for me to be strong for my children, to be strong for Patti. And this is also a time for Patti and me to get home, so we can explain to our kids, our babies Amy and Annie, what happened, what all this means and where we’re going from here. So we’re going to keep fighting on, through this adversity, and see you soon.”
Judge Zagel said the sentencing guidelines indicated 15.5 years to 19.5 years in prison was appropriate. But at the last moment, Blagojevich accepted responsibility for his actions and made a heartfelt apology, which reduced his sentence by two points, Zagel said.
Blagojevich told the judge he accepted he is guilty and was sorry for it. He apologized to his family and the people of Illinois.
"I was the governor, and I should have known better," Blagojevich said. "I have nobody to blame but myself."
Blagojevich also touched on his profanity-laced tirades played in court from secret audio recordings. He said it was not the kind of talk that should come from a governor.
The former governor also spoke about his children, saying that prison time could teach them how to deal with adversity in life.
"I've ruined their innocence," Blagojevich said, "and it's not like their name is Smith; they can't hide."
Blagojevich only spoke for about 20 minutes. He was subdued in court, leaning into the podium while speaking a low voice.
Zagel addressed Blagojevich directly, saying he always addressed Blagojevich as “governor,” even when his lawyers didn’t, to emphasize the importance of his office and thus the degree of betrayal of the public's trust.
Zagel also mused aloud that perhaps Blagojevich’s personality was “not suitable to public service."
Blagojevich was also fined $20,000, and he will be required to serve 85 percent of his sentence. He has 90 days to report to prison, so he will report by Feb. 16.
After the sentence was delivered and Blagojevich’s attorneys worked out a report date with the judge, the former governor went over to his crying wife and gave her a kiss on the forehead. He said, "I love you." They shared a long hug, and he massaged her shoulders as reporters left the courtroom.
In June, Blagojevich was convicted on 17 counts of corruption, including attempting to sell the senate seat of President Barack Obama. He was also sentenced on one count of lying to the FBI at his first trial last year.
His 14 year sentence is greater than that of former Gov. George Ryan, who was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison, and of convicted Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko, who was recently sentenced to 10.5 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald spoke after the sentence, saying the sentence sends a “strong message” to public officials who consider corruption.
“It is profoundly sad that we are here for the second time in five years to discuss the conviction and sentencing of a governor of Illinois. As Judge Zagel so aptly put it, when a governor goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn. Too much fabric has been torn in Illinois,” Fitzgerald said. “Today’s sentence of 14 years on former Gov. Blagojevich sends a strong message that the public has had enough, and judges have had enough. This needs to stop. To put it very, very simply: We don’t want to be here again.”
“The sentence handed down today represents a repayment of the debt that Blagojevich owes to the people of Illinois. While promising an open and honest administration, in reality, the former governor oversaw a comprehensive assault on the public’s trust,” said Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI.
Typically, a sentence over 10 years does not allow a convict to serve his time in a prison camp, but the defense had said they were going to make a special request.
Court got underway around 10:20 a.m. Wednesday, with the defense arguing there was "no harm and no gain" in the case, and saying he didn't even come close to George Ryan. The government began its presentation refuting their argument and supporting their tough sentence recommendation.
"He was corrupt the day he took the oath of office, and he was corrupt the day he was arrested," prosecutor Reid Schar said.
Judge James Zagel had indicated he would favor the prosecution’s recommendation of 15 to 20 years throughout proceedings at the hearing, ruling in agreement of their interpretation of the sentencing guidelines and appearing stone-faced throughout Blagojevich’s family’s statements.
On Tuesday morning, the judge ruled that Blagojevich’s crimes were in the $1.6 million or more range and that he was the leader of the scheme, putting him at the 15 year mark or higher in the sentencing guidelines.
In court Tuesday afternoon, attorneys for Blagojevich presented emotional appeals for leniency. His wife Patti Blagojevich sobbed, and even the ex-governor choked up, as attorney Aaron Goldstein read a letter from their 15-year-old daughter, Amy Blagojevich.
“For the past three years, my world has been spinning out of control,” she wrote the judge. “I need him for my high school graduation. I need him if I don’t get into college. I'll need him when my heart gets broken. I need my father in my life.”
A letter from Patti Blagojevich begged the judge to be merciful.
Zagel sat stone-faced through the emotional pleas, remaining business-like after the defense was finished.
At least a dozen of the jurors from Blagojevich's two trials showed up for the sentencing hearing. They said Tuesday they were struck by the defense's emotional appeal to the judge.
Many of the jurors said they wanted to be at the courthouse because they played a major role in a long process that was coming to an end.
Connie Wilson, the foreperson of the second trial jury, which found Blagojevich guilty on 17 counts, said she was happy with the verdict.
“I think it was a message finally that it’s not politics as usual any more, not in Illinois anyway,” Wilson said.
"I feel terrible for his family, but I do hope it sends a message to our future governors," said juror Amy Laures. "I am still struggling with whether he really believes he's guilty."
Blagojevich told the judge during his remarks on Wednesday that after being found guilty this summer, his first thought was being with his 15- and 8-year-old daughters, and he rushed home to deal with them.
As he explained the situation to his older daughter, Amy, Blagojevich said that was when he began to accept and understand his guilt. He promised her he would fight from the beginning, he said, and she insisted after the guilty verdict he go outside and tell the reporters assembled he would continue to fight.
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