Online Staff Report
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, 54, was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday, Dec. 7, on 18 criminal counts involving the attempted sale of a U.S. Senate seat, illegal shakedowns for campaign cash and lying to federal agents.
Prosecutors were seeking a sentencing range of 15 to 20 years.
In explaining the 14-year sentence, U.S. District Judge James Zagel said he believed Blagojevich had accepted responsibility for his actions.
“It’s clear he is not blaming” anyone else, Zagel said.
The judge said he also gave Blagojevich credit for his work on behalf of children while governor in creating the All Kids health care program.
Blagojevich’s sentencing came after he had made an emotional 20-minute plea for mercy from Zagel.
“I never set out to break the law,” Blagojevich said in his plea before the court. “The jury decided I was guilty; I am accepting of it, I acknowledge it.
“I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions and the things I did and I thought I could do,” Blagojevich added. “I’m not blaming anybody.”
“I am unbelievably sorry,” Blagojevich said.
The former governor also said he believed his illegal actions were “permissible,” but added, “I was mistaken.”
Most notably among his crimes, Blagojevich attempted to sell or trade an appointment to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the election of President Barack Obama.
“The jury convicted me,” Blagojevich said during his plea. “Those were my actions. Those were things I did; talked about doing. I am responsible for that. I caused it all. I’m not blaming anybody. I was the governor, and I should have known better.”
As he left the lectern following his plea, Blagojevich reportedly appeared red-eyed and teary.
During a final argument for a sentencing range of 15 to 20 years, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said Blagojevich’s actions as governor “eroded” public trust in government and caused true harm.
As evidence, Schar said Blagojevich had withheld funding to every Illinois hospital for 30 days and delayed an appointment to fill Obama’s open Senate seat while important votes were occurring in the Senate.
“The defendant in this case held up funding to every children’s hospital in the state of Illinois for 30 days,” Schar said. “That was a real harm.”
Blagojevich’s Dec. 7 sentencing came just days before his 55th birthday Dec. 10.
Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery Dec. 9, 2008.
Jan. 9, 2009, The Illinois House of Representatives voted 114-1 to impeach Blagojevich for corruption and misconduct in office, the first time such an action had been taken against an Illinois governor. The Illinois State Senate unanimously found Blagojevich guilty of the charges of impeachment, and he was removed from office Jan. 29, 2009.
Current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who was the sitting lieutenant governor at the time, assumed the governor’s office upon Blagojevich’s removal. Quinn is now serving his first elected term as governor after being elected in 2010.
Blagojevich is the second consecutive Illinois governor to be convicted of corruption charges. His predecessor, George Ryan, 77, was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison Sept. 6, 2006, for the illegal sale of government licenses, contracts and leases by state employees during his prior service as Secretary of State. Ryan is scheduled for release July 4, 2013.
Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said Dec. 7 the sentencing of Blagojevich will not kill the state’s pay-to-play culture, unless it prompts serious ethics reform.
“We cannot rely on a prison sentence to deter corruption,” Simon said. “Illinois needs stronger ethics laws to kill pay-to-play politics. It’s time we expose conflicts of interest before they cost taxpayers, and clear the way for true public servants to rebuild trust with the public. Increased transparency, coupled with the threat of serious prison time, can end these shameful courtroom battles. Together, we can put this chapter behind us, restore integrity to government and live up to our legacy as the Land of Lincoln.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said: “Based on his convictions — for numerous crimes he was caught on tape committing during just one six-week period — Blagojevich deserves a lengthy prison sentence. Unfortunately, though, it cannot fix the damage he inflicted on our state over his six years as governor.
“Blagojevich became governor by promising ethical reform, but from the start, he relentlessly used his position to pursue illegal and morally bankrupt schemes motivated by power and greed,” Madigan added. “His conduct was disgraceful, and the cost to the state has been devastating.
“Blagojevich refused to govern responsibly and, instead, put Illinois up for sale,” Madigan said. “He tarnished the state’s reputation nationally and internationally, and he destroyed the public’s trust in government. May today’s sentence put an end to corruption in the Illinois’ governor’s office.”
U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) said: “Today, years of corruption caught up with Rod Blagojevich. His reckless disregard of his oath to the people made a mockery of the governor’s office, shattered the public’s confidence in public service, and pushed the State of Illinois into a huge economic hole. He deserved every one of the 14 years in prison he received today.
“I would hope that Judge Zagel’s sentence finally gets through to the politicians in this state who continue to abuse the public trust for personal gain,” Manzullo added. “We have had enough of this in the State of Illinois. The people of this great state need reassurances that the people they place in public office are honorable, ethical and act on the public’s best interests. It is a tremendous honor to represent the people, and it’s time all public officials in our state act like it.”
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said of the sentencing: “I want to commend Judge James Zagel on his firm, but just, sentence of former governor Rod Blagojevich. Hopefully, this sends a strong message that unethical conduct is unacceptable.
“Blagojevich’s actions were particularly offensive given that he talked about reforming government in the wake of the scandals that had plagued the Secretary of State’s office during the years of George Ryan,” White added. “The people of Illinois deserve better.”
Illinois Treasuruer Dan Rutherford said: “Rod Blagojevich brought the 14-year sentence on himself. He deceived the people of Illinois far too long for what the jury substantiated as his own personal gain. Today’s sentencing is proof that such corrupt, embarrassing behavior will no longer be tolerated in Illinois.”
Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka released the following statement in response to the sentencing:
“With his ruling today, Judge Zagel has ensured that the Rod Blagojevich years will end as they should: with the former governor’s incarceration.
“To be clear, I take no joy in seeing any father taken from his children and family for an extended period of time,” Topinka added. “And yet, there is no question in my mind that it is the right decision given the extraordinary damage Blagojevich caused our state, and the importance of sending a clear and unmistakable message that corruption will not be tolerated in our government.
“Rod Blagojevich ran as a reformer and proved to be worse than anything that came before him,” Topinka added. “His reckless and self-serving handling of state finances has put Illinois billions of dollars in the hole, and ensured that it will operate at a deficit for years to come. His rampant corruption in mixing money, politics and government service undermined our system and further jaded an already-cynical public. And his refusal to accept any responsibility for his actions, while mocking his prosecution in his many media interviews, once again made Illinois and its government a national joke.
“The former governor will now have plenty of time to consider his performance over these years, and quietly assess the consequences of his actions,” Topinka said. “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.”
Locally, State Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-69) said: “It was reassuring to see justice served for unjust and illegal behaviors by one of our former governors. The end of the Blagojevich trial and era is a sign of better times to come where we can focus on making Illinois well-run rather than corrupt.”