's sentencing hearing has ended for the day, with the defense emphasizing the damage a long prison sentence would have on Blagojevich’s family.
Lawyer Aaron Goldstein also read a letter read to the court from Blagojevich’s wife, Patti.
“Your honor, I ask you humbly with the life of my husband and the childhood of my daughters in your hands, be merciful,” she wrote to U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
Her husband’s worst fear was that he would not be able to see his daughters grow up, Goldstein said, prompting both Rod and
to tear up as they listened in the courtroom.
Goldstein also read messages written by Blagojevich to his now-teenage daughter, Amy, in 2005 when she went away on a class trip. The lawyer repeated the defense assertion that the Blagojevich girls would be devastated by having their father go to prison for more than a decade.
Goldstein then read an excerpt from Amy Blagojevich’s letter to the judge. One of the few good things about her father’s troubles was that he has been home a lot, she wrote.
“He’s been here to help me with my homework,” she wrote. “He’s been here to teach me life lessons.”
She asked the court for mercy for her dad. A long sentence would be too much for her, she said.
“It’s too drastic a change. I need my father,” she wrote. “I need him there for my high school graduation. I’ll need him there if I don’t get into college.
“I’ll need him when my heart gets broken.”
The hearing is set to resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday with prosecutors addressing the judge. Then Blagojevich would make his statement to Zagel.
Before the hearing ended, Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky continued to tell Zagel he did not believe anything Blagojevich did warranted 15 to 20 years in prison.
Such a penalty would be too harsh even for the central charge that Blagojevich sought campaign donations from supporters of U.S. Rep.
in exchange for appointing him to the vacant Senate seat, Sorosky said.
The most damning statement Blagojevich made on undercover recordings was “if, in fact, this is possible, then some of this stuff has to start happening now,” meaning the campaign contributions, Sorosky said.
“He’s asking for a contribution here. And that’s wrong and he’s guilty, but I don’t know that that’s anywhere near selling a Senate seat for $1.5 million” Sorosky said. “And once again this does not call for a sentence of 15 years in jail.”
The defense also played snippets from a pair of wiretapped calls that Goldstein said he hoped would shed light on what happened from Blagojevich’s perspective.
In the first call, adviser Doug Scofield told Blagojevich to leverage his power over the U.S. Senate appointment, saying it was “a good place to be” to have
interested in who Blagojevich picked as senator.
“It was repeated over and over,” Goldstein said. “From Mr. Blagojevich’s perspective, it’s every single person cheering this on.”
Another call showed he was trying to do what was best for Illinois, cutting a political deal with the Madigans to get a package of proposals through the legislature, Goldstein said. He wanted a capital bill passed to create jobs, expand health care and block tax increases, Blagojevich could be heard to say on one recording played by the defense.
Contrary to what prosecutors believe, Goldstein said, “there are sides to him that are not criminal, that are decent.”
To try to drive that point home, Goldstein also played a videotaped statement of a woman who benefited from Blagojevich’s push to give free rides to senior citizens on public transportation. The woman had seen Blagojevich on television after he was charged.
“I would say in my heart, ‘I’m praying for you, Governor,’” she said on the video as Blagojevich looked on in court with a sad look on his face. God would help him because he helped people, “even little old me,” she said.
4:02 p.m. CST, December 6, 2011
Lawyers for Rod Blagojevich appear to have changed tactics this afternoon, conceding the former governor committed crimes but arguing that a 15-year prison sentence would be far too severe for such wrongdoing.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel has heard from three Blagojevich lawyers this afternoon, including one who told the judge to try to look past all of the technical arguments on sentencing guidelines and think about what Blagojevich was convicted of.
Sheldon Sorosky told the judge Blagojevich committed four wrongs, chiefly the attempted sale of the Senate seat held by Barack Obama until his election as president. Blagojevich made a mistake by asking for a job in return for possibly appointing Obama’s friend,
to the Senate, Sorosky said.
“We accept the fact that’s a crime. It’s illegal. He should not have done it,” Sorosky said. “That crime does not call for a 15-year jail sentence.”
A second Blagojevich lawyer, Aaron Goldstein, then argued that general deterrence should not factor into the punishment given the former governor.
“I would suggest your honor that it does work,” said Goldstein, rattling off a series of public corruption cases in which politicians who pocketed tens of thousands of dollars received shorter sentences than what the government is proposing for Blagojevich.
Blagojevich doesn’t warrant punishment anywhere near the 15 to 20 years in prison that the government is seeking, Goldstein said. Even if Blagojevich gets a 5-year prison term, no other politician is going to think he got away with a free pass, he said.
Prosecutors have cited Blagojevich’s publicity campaigns as something the court might consider in handing down a sentence. But Goldstein said Blagojevich said things he was entitled to say in the media and some other things that maybe he shouldn’t have said, but in no way did Blagojevich intend to attack Zagel as a judge or the court process.
Goldstein also encouraged Zagel to consider certain figures in the investigation who were never charged despite their wrongdoing, citing Raghu Nayak and Rajinder Bedi, who allegedly offered $1.5 million in exchange for appointing U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate seat.
The government thinks of Blagojevich as a shark, he said.
“But he wasn’t swimming with guppies,” Goldstein told the court.
Another lawyer for Blagojevich, Carolyn Gurland, asked Zagel not to sentence Blagojevich to a stiff term to send a broader message to other politicians. Blagojevich should not be given more years because it seems that prosecutions of public corruption cases have done little to stop elected officers from crossing the line, she said.
Blagojevich should be considered alone and not sentenced for the “historical political corruption in Illinois or anywhere else,” she said. “He is an individual who has and will suffer his punishment as an individual.”
All of it should be weighed against what will be suffered by “a man and his family,” Gurland said.
Zagel asked the lawyers exactly what sentence they were recommending because a specific request for probation was not part of defense filings even though that’s what the former governor’s legal team had been calling for weeks.
Goldstein avoided asking for probation, telling the judge the defense seeks “the lowest sentence possible.”
2:38 p.m. CST, December 6, 2011
Arguing for a lighter sentence for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, his attorney asked U.S. District Judge James Zagel to consider “the devastation that his absence would cause to his family.”
Blagojevich is a loving father who put his two girls first when he was on top of the world as a politician and after his extraordinary fall. A long prison term would damage them, said Blagojevich’s lawyer, Carolyn Gurland.
“It would break their hearts and take the safe and loving home they have had around them apart,” Gurland said as she resumed her argument after lunch.
Gurland summarized a number of letters written to the court by those who have observed Blagojevich with his children. He attended school functions regularly, choosing to stand in line with all of the other parents, the writers said.
Patti Blagojevich also wrote to the court, telling how her husband turned aside the social aspects of his offices and put his family first. When he was elected to Congress, Blagojevich did not move to Washington, and after his election as governor, the family did not move to Springfield, instead staying in Chicago to keep their family fabric together, she wrote.
“Being with his family every minute he could was always his top priority,” Gurland said. He wanted a down-to-earth upbringing for his girls, Amy and Annie, and seemed to have been successful.
Gurland said the family is now trying to sell their home and their lives have been forever altered. Part of that was due to Blagojevich’s relentless appearances in the media, she said, but tried to explain why that was Blagojevich’s strategy.
“The publicity wasn’t going to go away,” she said. “Mr. Blagojevich wanted to maintain his honor and strength,” so his wife and daughters could keep their heads up.
Did that work? Zagel asked.
“I think, your honor, it did help them dealing with this case,” Gurland said.
Zagel pointed out that prosecutors think Blagojevich’s media campaigns could be aggravating factors when considering a sentence, so he asked Gurland why the former governor’s repeated challenges to prosecutors on television wouldn’t be an issue.
“I think it would not be aggravating depending upon what Mr. Blagojevich position would be on that now with some hindsight,” she said. Besides, there is a difference between pre- and post-jury remarks, she said.
“I don’t know of any very contentious appearances by Mr. Blagojevich after the jury verdict,” Gurland said.
As for the more spectacular TV appearances, such as Patti’s appearance on “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here,” that was for the money, Gurland said, and the Blagojeviches knew they were being mocked.
“They allowed this. They did not enjoy this,” Gurland said. And while they became laughingstocks, they were able to keep their girls in private school and keep their family home, she said.
-- Bob Section, Jeff Coen
1:13 p.m. CST, December 6, 2011
Before Rod Blagojevich's sentencing hearing broke for lunch, his lawyer Carolyn Gurland began relating what she sees as factors in the former governor’s life and career that argue against a long prison sentence.
Before Gurland spoke, Blagojevich’s legal team also brought Chicago pediatrician Deanna Monroe to the stand to talk about what she saw as the importance of the All Kids insurance program that Blagojevich launched as governor to broaden health insurance coverage for children for families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.
Monroe said she is seeing an increasing number of young patients covered by All Kids because of the lengthy economic downturn. “It’s good for the child and it’s good for the community,” she said.
In her presentation, Gurland spoke of what she characterized as “powerful arguments for leniency in sentencing” She called the government’s recommendation of 15 to 20 years in prison “greater than necessary punishment.” Repeating a frequent defense refrain, she stressed that Blagojevich pocketed no money from the schemes for which he was convicted and that none of the shakedowns was completed.
More to the point, she continued, Blagojevich didn’t think he was breaking the law even if jurors concluded that he did. Blagojevich didn’t pocket bribes but rather sought campaign contributions or explored the idea of securing new jobs for himself as part of the discussions over naming a new U.S. senator, all by themselves legal acts. “The law is murky,” Gurland argued.
On government wiretaps, Blagojevich is heard in numerous discussions with aides, advisers and prominent national officials discussing options for things he might get in exchange for the Senate seat. No one told him any of this was wrong, another reason why he believed “his conduct was within the bounds of the law,” Gurland said.
Then Gurland launched into a lengthy recitation of Blagojevich’s biography, underscoring his blue-collar upbringing and the strong work ethic of his parents.
“Mr. Blagojevich is a kind and compassionate man who is sincere in his desire to help people,” she said, stressing that was the motivation behind All Kids and many other of his public initiatives.
Because of his upbringing, Blagojevich has a “lifelong affinity” with the struggles of the working class, she said. “He felt more comfortable around people who had to struggle to make a living than around better off people he was surrounded with later in life,” Gurland said.
-- Bob Secter
If Rod Blagojevich harbored any hope of getting off with a light sentence, it was quickly dashed by U.S. District Judge James Zagel who made it abundantly clear he didn’t buy defense claims that Blagojevich was steered into wrongdoing by manipulative aides who stood to gain little from the crimes that were committed.
“Based on those tapes, I don’t think he was an easy man to stop,” Zagel said in reference to government wiretaps. “He rattled on for quite a long time…His tone of voice was demanding. He was not a supplicant.”
“I do believe that is absurd to contend that his staff and advisers would devise a criminal scheme whose only aim was to benefit the defendant,” the judge said. “…He promised them nothing. He was interested in himself."
There is more to come in the sentencing hearing today, and Zagel has said he won’t pronounce the final number of years he thinks Blagojevich should serve in prison until tomorrow at the earliest.
But as the morning unfolded, it became quickly clear that the judge would be likely to lean far close to the government’s recommendation of a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison than to that of the defense, which is asking for something far less and harbors hopes for possibly even getting probation.
The morning began with prosecution and defense lawyers arguing the fine points of federal sentencing guidelines, with lawyers for Blagojevich essentially claiming he didn’t stand to benefit from the crimes for which he was convicted and was a follower, not a leader, of any conspiracy.
Government lawyers, of course, made the opposite argument.
It might seem an arcane disagreement, but Blagojevich’s level of involvement in the shakedown schemes for which he was convicted, as well as the amount of money or benefit he thought he could get, factors greatly into how sentencing rules should be applied.
Arguing for Blagojevich was attorney Carolyn Gurland, a sentencing specialist who was added to the defense team after the former governor’s conviction at his retrial last June.
Blagojovich was convicted of trying to shake down a hospital executive and a racetrack official for $125,000 in exchange for official action. He also was convicted of attempting to steer a U.S. Senate appointment to U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in exchange for $1.5 million of promised fundraising support from a Jackson supporter.
Gurland said those numbers shouldn’t be factored in because they were just fundraising goals and there was no evidence Blagojevich could have actually obtained that much. “The numbers were being thrown around,” she said.
And Gurland said Blagojevich wasn’t leading a shakedown conspiracy but instead was being led by craven advisers who manipulated him for their own purposes. If Blagojevich was a real leader, Gurland argued, the Senate appointment would have been completed and the hospital and horse track donations made.
But prosecutor Reid Schar called Blagojevich “a very clever criminal” and said the wiretaps showed he wasn’t indecisive in the least when it came to the Senate seat. “He did decide,” Schar said. “He just didn’t get what he wanted.”
Zagel, of course, had the last word, and the judge made it clear he had no sympathy for Blagojevich’s claims.
Just because Blagojevich didn’t complete his shakedowns made him no less culpable, Zagel said. “The governor of Illinois had a significant amount of power to inflict penalties on those who did not pay,” the judge said.
Zagel also made it clear he wasn’t buying Blagojevich’s often-repeated claim that he never intended to appoint Jackson but was always planning to make
the U.S. senator as part of a political deal with her father, Illinois House Speaker
“I think this was untrue…I think he seized on this at trial,” Zagel said.
-- Bob Secter
The sentencing hearing for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has begun, and there may be no more telling symbol of his fall from grace than the way he showed up this morning at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse ushered in quietly through a passage not accessible to the public and away from the glare of cameras and prying media.
That's how Mayor
came and went when he showed up briefly last spring as a defense witness for Blagojevich, and it is a courtesy sometimes offered to luminaries and high-profile defendants on trial. But during the many court hearings and two trials he has endured since his arrest exactly three years ago this Friday, Blagojevich has typically entered and left the courthouse through the front door and often reveled in the attention from not just the press but also a crush of autograph-seeking well-wishers.
Even when his lawyers told him not to speak at those times, he still managed to smile and wave for the cameras and shake an array of hands on his way in and out the door.
As governor and even as a criminal defendant, Blagojevich always seemed to crave attention, and the fact that he apparently is now avoiding it may be a sign that the gravity of his situation is finally sinking in.
Blagojevich did nod to several reporters as he strode into U.S. District Judge James Zagel's 25th floor courtroom. He was wearing a sharply fitted dark suit and tie with tiny blue squares, doubtless from the collection of expensive and finely tailored suits he amassed as governor and which became an issue during his first trial.
"I love you," he told his wife, Patti, in the courtroom.
-- Bob Secter
10:15 a.m. CST December 6, 2011
The sentencing hearing for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich began around 10:10 a.m. with three raps of the gavel by U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
Blagojevich, dressed in dark suit and tie, walked into the ceremonial courtroom and looked at the reporters and nodded hello before sitting at the defense table. His wife Patti sat in the front row of the courtroom, her brother and sister by her side.
9:34 a.m. CST December 6, 2011
Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich didn't say much as he left his Chicago home en route to his sentencing hearing in federal court.
Blagojevich was greeted by a crowd of media when he walked out of his house this morning. Reporters shouted questions about the sentencing hearing, but the normally talkative Blagojevich didn't respond.
He did, however, comment when someone asked him about Chicago Cubs legend
finally making the Hall of Fame. "God bless him," Blagojevich said.
"I'm so happy," he added. "Long overdue."
-- Associated Press
7:00 a.m. CST December 6, 2011
In a bid to avoid a long prison sentence,