Former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday and fined $20,000 for what U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald referred to as a criminal corruption crime spree at the time of Blagojevich’s arrest three years ago.
Blagojevich was convicted of corruption charges including trying to trade President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat in exchange for money or favors. He will have to serve a minimum of nearly 12 years under federal rules that say defendants must complete 85% of their sentences. He doesn’t have to report to federal prison until Feb. 16.
The sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge James Zagel is more than double the prison term given in 2006 to another former Illinois governor, George Ryan, who is serving a 6 ½-year sentence in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.
Patti Blagojevich buried her head in her husband’s shoulder and the two embraced after the sentence was announced. He pulled back to brush tears off her cheek and then rubbed her shoulders.
As he left the Chicago courthouse, Blagojevich told reporters that “we’re going to keep fighting on through this adversity. … This is a time to be strong.” He said that he and Patti had to get home “to their babies” and explain “what all this means.”
At a news conference, Fitzgerald said the sentence handed to Blagojevich ought to send a message. “If there is a public official out there who is thinking about committing a crime, they ought to be thinking twice,” he said. “If a 14-year sentence doesn’t stop someone, I wouldn’t want to be sitting in front of a judge after that.”
Before pronouncing sentence, Zagel told Blagojevich he had abused the public trust. “When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired,” the judge said.
He added that Blagojevich was clearly responsible for his crimes, not his underlings, as the former governor had argued. “He marched them and ruined a few of their careers and more than that in the process,” Zagel said.
Though Zagel said he was sympathetic to how the sentence would affect Blagojevich’s two daughters, he asked, “Why did devotion as a father not deter him? ... Now it is too late.”
The judge announced the sentence after a somber Blagojevich, his voice cracking with emotion, pleaded for leniency with a round of apologies to the judge, to the jurors who convicted him, to the public and to his family.
“I’m here convicted of crimes. The jury decided I was guilty. I am accepting of it. I acknowledge it, and I of course am unbelievably sorry for it,” Blagojevich said.
“I want to apologize to the people of Illinois, to the court, for the mistakes I have made.... I never set out to break the law. I never set out to cross lines.”
Blagojevich said he thought he was acting in accord with the law when he did things for which he later was convicted.
“I was mistaken. The jury convicted me, and they convicted me because those were my actions.… I am responsible. I caused it all. I’m not blaming anybody. I was the governor, and I should have known better. And I am just so incredibly sorry.”
In a more than half-hour monologue, nearly twice as long as Blagojevich spoke, Zagel told him he believed he had finally come to accept responsibility for his actions but that did not significantly lessen the damage he had done to his family and to the public trust in government.
“His abuse of the office of governor is more damaging than any other office in the United States except president,” Zagel said.