Blagojevich gets 14 years for corruption

2011-12-07T13:26:00Z 2011-12-30T16:51:15Z Blagojevich gets 14 years for corruptionBY KEVIN McDERMOTT > kmcdermott@Qpost-dispatch.com > 217-782-4912 stltoday.com

UPDATED at 2 p.m. with additional details and reaction. 

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. • Illinois ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich today was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison on 18 counts of corruption during his tumultuous tenure in office, including an attempt to auction off the U.S. Senate seat previously held by President Barack Obama.

Under standard federal guidelines that require completion of at least 85 percent of prison sentences before parole, Blagojevich will serve at least 11-1/2 years behind bars -- by far the stiffest sentence of the four Illinois ex-governors who have landed in prison in the past half-century.

Blagojevich has until Feb. 16, 2012, to report for the start of his sentence, a preparation period that isn't unusual in such cases.

Prior to the sentencing at the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago, Blagojevich delivered an apology to the state that was in stark contrast to his three-year national media blitz in which he staunchly and repeatedly vowed to clear his name.

But the carefully worded statement stopped short of a specific admission of guilt.

"I am here convicted of crimes. I am accepting of it. I acknowledge it. And I am of course unbelievably sorry for it," Blagojevich told U.S. District Judge James Zagel during a 20-minute address to the court, according to reporters from various outlets who were stationed in the court room and who disseminated the comments via Twitter.

"I want to apologize to the people of Illinois, to the court, for the mistakes I have made," he said. "I never set out to break the law. I never set out to cross lines."

In an echo of fellow convicted ex-Gov. George Ryan -- who drew public outrage at his own sentencing hearing five years ago by apologizing for a mere lack of vigilance instead of admitting guilt -- Blagojevich chided himself for mere stupidity.

"I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity," he said.

Blagojevich served as governor from 2003 through the start of January 2009, when he was impreached following his arrest on multiple corruption charges. He was convicted in two trials of attempting to auction off Obama's former U.S. Senate seat for political donations or a federal appointment, along with other schemes captured on FBI wiretaps of conversations between Blagojevich and others.

Prosecutors had asked for a 15- to 20-prison sentence. While Zagel delivered a sentence just under that level, it was still significantly stiffer than the 6-1/2-year term currently being served by Ryan (Blagojevich's immediate predecessor) for his own corruption conviction. Former governors-turned-inmates Otto Kerner and Dan Walker both served still lighter sentences for their respective crimes.

"When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn, disfigured and not easily repaired," Zagel said before handing down the sentence.

Zagel acknowledged Blagojevich's pleas on behalf of his two young daughters, but noted the crimes and asked: "Why did devotion as a father not deter him?"

"This is tragic . . . but the fault of his lies were his faults alone," said Zagel.

After the sentencing, Patti Blagojevich tearfully buried her face on her husband's shoulder, according to media accounts from within the court room.

Blagojevich's tenure as governor was marked by fervent pushes for health care and other progressive goals, but his brawling political style and penchant for grandstanding and vilifying opponents soon poisoned both parties against him. By the time he was arrested at his Chicago home in December 2008, he had few friends in either party and there had already been talk of impeachment.

During Blagojevich's three years as a defendant, he has continued putting forward that forceful, cocky demeanor, using the national media, a Donald Trump reality show, a biographical book and other venues to declare his utter innocence of the charges against him.

Reaction in Illinois' political world to the sentence was a bipartisan chorus of agreement, and of soul-searching.

"The former Governor will now have plenty of time to consider his performance over these years, and quietly assess the consequences of his actions,'' state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said in an emailed statement to reporters. Topinka was the Republican nominee for governor in 2006 and lost to then-incumbent Blagojevich. "It may seem like an eternity to him, but in truth, the damage he has caused to our state will far outlast any prison sentence he will serve."

Democrats were quick to point out that, though Blagojevich was a Democrat, it was his own party that ultimately removed him from office — and that corruption in Illinois is by no means a one-party issue.

"With the last two governors of Illinois going to prison . . . neither party has a monopoly on virtue," said state Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton. "(Blagojevich) was elected by the people twice. (Republican) George Ryan was elected statewide three times. Both parties have the burden to show the citizens that the culture has changed."

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