Rod Blagojevich prepares for 14-year prison sentence after corruption conviction

December 8, 2011

Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor convicted on corruption charges related to attempting to sell his appointment of President Obama’s vacant Senate seat, will face 14 years in prison. As AP reported:

Rod Blagojevich starts his Thursday facing a bleak countdown — 71 days before the twice-elected Illinois governor must say good-bye to his family and begin serving a 14-year sentence for corruption.

During those days, he will scramble to get his financial affairs in order and spend a final birthday and Christmas at home with his wife, Patti, and their two young daughters before heading off to prison to serve the sentence handed down Wednesday.

The next time Blagojevich gets to spend Christmas or his birthday with his children — 15-year-old Amy and 8-year-old Annie — they will likely be young adults. Blagojevich, whose 55th birthday is Saturday, won’t be eligible for early release for about 12 years, when he will be around 67 years old.

“I’ve had a lot of clients who’ve had to start making preparations the day after they were sentenced,” said Gal Pissetzky, a federal defense attorney based in Chicago. “But not a single one of them has been able to prepare for saying good-bye to their children.”

Judge James Zagel sentenced Blagojevich on Wednesday on 18 counts of corruption, including his June convictions on charges that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job. The impeached governor must report to prison on Feb. 16.

The Blagojeviches, who say his legal troubles also devastated them financially, put their home up for sale after he was convicted in June, and he would likely want to find a buyer before he heads off to prison. They initially listed it for $1.07 million but reportedly lowered the price recently by several thousand dollars.

To make sure his wife can make those and other financial transactions on her own, Blagojevich will also want to make sure he signs necessary papers to give her power of attorney, Pissetzky said.

Blagojevich joins a long list of Illinois governors who have been charged with crimes, four of the past nine of whom saw jail time. As Elizabeth Flock explained:

When former governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich was sentenced yesterday on 18 counts of corruption, his attorney, wife and supporters said he had done nothing to warrant 14 years in jail. Yet Blagojevich got just that, an unusually harsh punishment intended to send a signal to the state of Illinois, which has been racked by corrupt politicians for decades.

So corrupt, in fact, that in the past four decades, four Illinois governors have gone to prison. That’s four out of the past nine governors in office. Two more governors who were charged with crimes were later acquitted.

So why did Blagojevich’s audio tapes, many in which the former governor spoke vaguely, (“if, in fact, this is possible, then some of this stuff has to start happening now,” referring to the campaign contributions) get him in such hot water? Why is Illinois being tough now?

Illinois’s governor problem has always stemmed from Chicago. It’s a city widely recognized as still clinging to the corrupt Democratic machine of old, which revolved around Mayor Richard J. Daley (D). (His son, Richard M. Daley (D), was just replaced as mayor by Democratic former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.)

An old joke goes that former president John F. Kennedy, former president Lyndon Johnson, and former Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley are stuck on a one-person life raft that is sinking, and they have a secret ballot to decide who should stay. When the ballot box is opened, there’s one vote for Kennedy, one vote for Johnson, and 5,475 for Daley.

Several people who were on the original trial jury that found Blagojevich guilty on federal corruption charges attended the sentencing hearing. As AP reported:

Jurors who found Rod Blagojevich guilty of federal corruption charges earlier this year did not have to show up to court Wednesday to watch a judge impose the prison sentence they all knew was coming. But they believed they owed him — and themselves — that much.

“When I make a decision that affects somebody’s life, I certainly better be able to look him in the face,” said Connie Wilson, the jury’s forewoman, and one of several jurors who sat in the courtroom for Blagojevich’s sentencing hearing.

It was not easy. Not when Blagojevich was talking about how he asked his daughters not to be ashamed of him. And not when he talked about how he understood he had put in “jeopardy” his ability to protect them.

“I feel terrible (for Blagojevich’s daughters) especially at this time in their lives,” said Amy Laures, an alternate juror. “They’re basically going to be growing without their father around.”

But for Wilson, Laures and others, what made the day easier to bear were the words that Judge James Zagel told Blagojevich — and them — just before he sentenced Blagojevich to prison for 14 years: That they got it right.

“That was important to us,’” said fellow juror Jessica Hubinek after Zagel looked at Blagojevich and told him that not only had the jury not believed his testimony but that he did not believe it either. “We wanted to know that we had done the right thing.”

One after another, jurors said it meant a lot to them that someone who knows far more about the law, has watched far more trials and heard from countless witnesses, that when he believed what they believed and didn’t believe what they didn’t believe.

More from The Washington Post

Blagojevich gets 14 years in prison (live tweets)

Blagojevich tells sentencing judge he accepts guilty and is sorry

VIDEO: Blagojevich: ‘Time for me to be strong’

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