U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel in Chicago today imposed the punishment on the twice-elected Democrat, concluding a two- day hearing and capping a case that began three years ago and featured two separate trials. Blagojevich was ordered to report to prison Feb. 16.
Blagojevich led the fifth-most populous American state from January 2003 until his impeachment and removal from office in January 2009. He was arrested a month earlier for what Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald then called “a political corruption crime spree.”
Blagojevich, 54, was found guilty on 17 counts in a trial that ended in June. A previous jury had deadlocked on 23 of the 24 counts it considered, finding the ex-governor guilty of lying to federal agents.
Prosecutors asked Zagel to sentence Blagojevich to 15 to 20 years in prison, arguing it would deter future wrongdoing in a state where four of the nine most recent governors have been convicted for crimes committed before, during and after they held office.
Blagojevich asked the judge for leniency in his final statement, and apologized for his mistakes. Outside the courtroom he said it was time for him to “be strong.” As AP explained:
On his way out of the courthouse, Blagojevich cited author Rudyard Kipling and said it was a time to be strong, to fight through adversity and be strong for his children. He said he and wife were heading home to speak to their daughters, and then left without answering any questions.
The twice-elected Democrat received by far the harshest sentence among the four Illinois governors sent to prison in the last four decades. He is the second in a row to go to prison; his Republican predecessor, George Ryan, currently is serving 6 1/2 years. The other two got three years or less.
Blagojevich, in a last plea for mercy, tried something he never had before: an apology. After years of insisting he was innocent, he told the judge he’d made “terrible mistakes” and acknowledged that he broke the law.
“I caused it all, I’m not blaming anybody,” Blagojevich said. “I was the governor and I should have known better and I am just so incredibly sorry.”
But Zagel gave him little leeway.
“Whatever good things you did for people as governor, and you did some, I am more concerned with the occasions when you wanted to use your powers ... to do things that were only good for yourself,” Zagel said.
The judge said he did not believe Blagojevich’s contention, as his lawyers wrote in briefings, that his comments about the corruption schemes were simply “musings.” Zagel said the jury concluded and he agreed that Blagojevich was engaged in actual schemes, and the undeniable leader of those schemes.
“The governor was not marched along this criminal path by his staff,” Zagel said. “He marched them.”
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