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Entries in Rod Blagojevich (7)

Thursday
Mar152012

Rod Blagojevich Gets in the Last Word Before Heading to Prison

Tim Boyle/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- On the verge of spending the next 14 years of his life behind bars, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich told reporters on Wednesday that attempts to overturn his conviction on corruption charges were "not over."

Blagojevich will begin serving his sentence on Thursday at a prison in Littleton, Colo., after being found guilty last June of trying to profit off the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Obama, as well as squeezing donors for campaign money.

Most of the 14 guilty verdicts were related to his attempts at selling Obama's vacated Senate seat in 2008 to the highest bidder for money or political favors.

Through it all, Blagojevich had maintained his innocence and Wednesday was no different as he said, "Everything I talked about doing when it came to campaign fundraising and political horse trading I believed was on the right side of the law."

Long before he was convicted, Blagojevich was kicked out of office by the state Legislature and then appeared as a contestant on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice.

Describing the next phase of his life as embarking on a "dark and long journey," he admitted the most difficult part of his ordeal was how to explain to his children why he won't be around them for a long time.

Blagojevich, 55, is one of a long line of crooked state politicians headed to jail.  Between 1972 and 2006, the Chicago Sun Times estimates that 79 Illinois elected officials were found guilty on federal corruption charges, including his predecessor, Republican Gov. George Ryan, who was convicted in 2006.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec152011

Blagojevich Prison Strategy: Substance Abuse Problem?

Tim Boyle/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Soon after ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was handed a stiff prison sentence -- 14 years in a federal pen -- another Illinois political figure who had done time offered some sage advice: tell the feds you just can’t stop drinking.

Scott Fawell, a former top aide to a different convicted governor, George Ryan, shaved time off his six-and-a-half-year sentence by entering a drug and alcohol rehab program at the federal prison camp in Yankton, S.D. After completing the nine-month regimen, Fawell got nearly a year’s credit in addition to time off for good behavior, serving just four years.

“It’s the only game in town,” he told ABC News, because parole is no longer available in the federal prison system.

A few days ago, Fawell contacted the Blagojevich defense team to offer some guidance. Now, Blagojevich is asking for drug and alcohol counseling at the minimum security prison in Englewood, Colo. U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel has agreed to the request, though the final decision is up to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

During his two trials on corruption charges, Blagojevich never mentioned a drug or alcohol problem. But Fawell says it doesn’t take much to qualify for prison rehab -- just an admission of regular drinking, such as knocking back five or more drinks a week.

“They set the bar pretty low, telling you five drinks a week makes you a problem drinker,” said Fawell.

Fawell said he, like many first-time convicts, did drink more heavily before reporting to prison: “You have more time on your hands and you’re nervous about what prison will be like.” He told ABC News, “any lawyer worth their salt” knows to ask for drug and alcohol treatment for clients headed to a federal prison.

But U.S. prison officials were quick to splash some cold water on that theory. “We’re on the lookout for people trying to game the system,” said Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons. “We only take those with demonstrated, documented substance abuse problems who can get real benefit from our programs.”

And with beds in rehab facilities at a premium, Burke told ABC News, applicants must have solid evidence to back up their claims. Blagojevich, who must report to prison March 15, could get as much as two years off his 14-year-sentence for good behavior.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec072011

Rod Blagojevich Sentenced to 14 Years

Tim Boyle/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- A federal judge has sentenced impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in prison, giving little weight to Blagojevich’s first-ever apology Wednesday morning since his arrest three years ago.

“The jury didn’t believe you and neither did I,” U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel said.

Blagojevich was convicted on 18 corruption charges, including the scheme to peddle the vacated Senate seat of Barack Obama.

Blagojevich started the day by telling the court that he was, “unbelievably sorry” for his “terrible mistakes” -- it was his last chance to convince the federal judge that he deserved some mercy when he was sentenced on corruption charges.

Prosecutors argued that he has failed the people of Illinois and instead, “further eroded the public’s confidence in government and government officials.”

Defense lawyers argued that because Blagojevich received no money in his assorted schemes to peddle his power, he did not deserve extended time behind bars.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec062011

Blago Sentencing Judge Says Illinois Gov. Was No Pawn

Tim Boyle/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- A federal judge, dismissing arguments that former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was a pawn of his advisors, told a packed sentencing hearing Tuesday that the disgraced governor was clearly a leader in shakedown schemes to sell Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel said it’s “absurd” for the defense to suggest that Blagojevich was being manipulated by staffers and advisers.  Zagel said secretly-recorded conversations showed that Blagojevich relentlessly worked to use his authority to benefit himself.

“There is no question from his tone of voice that he was demanding,” said Zagel. “His role as leader is clearly shown by his actions.”

Zagel dismantled defense points one by one, and appears to be setting the groundwork for handing down a stiff sentence on Wednesday.  However, Zagel agreed with federal prosecutors that federal maximum sentencing guidelines of 30 years to life are “simply not appropriate in the context of this case.” The government has recommended 15 to 20 years in prison.

After working the crowds like a campaigning politician during his two trials, Blagojevich arrived quietly through a back entrance at his sentencing hearing. Just before proceedings began, Blagojevich reached out to his wife, Patti, in the front row, saying, “I love you.”

In their pre-sentence arguments, the former governor’s defense team claimed Blagojevich was a “nominal boss” led astray by advisers, “not directing them in any way.” Defense attorney Carolyn Gurland insisted the ex-governor did not benefit financially:  “Mr. Blagojevich received nothing, and was going to receive nothing.”

But assistant U.S. attorney Reid Schar argued, “The issue is what he wanted to obtain,” pointing out Blagojevich maneuvered to benefit from his power to fill Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

Judge Zagel, sounding skeptical of defense arguments, noted, “In fact, the governor of Illinois had significant power to inflict penalties on those who did not pay.” The judge said Blagojevich appeared “pretty relentless” in his efforts to secure a $1.5 million campaign contribution from allies of Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Defense lawyers argued that federal sentencing guidelines call for a term of three to four years. But Ronald Safer, a former federal prosecutor, told ABC News he expects Judge Zagel to sentence Blagojevich on Wednesday to 12 to 15 years. “He’s going to have to impose a very stiff sentence,” Safer says, because former Blagojevich and President Obama fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko recently received 10 ½ years for participating in similar shakedown schemes.

Blagojevich deserves even harsher treatment, according to Safer, because he was Illinois’ highest elected official. The former governor could get even more time, Safer says, if the judge believes he perjured himself during his five days of testimony.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May252011

Blagojevich Trial: Rahm Emanuel, Jesse Jackson Jr. Testify

Tim Boyle/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich smiled and waved to spectators lined up in the lobby of the federal courthouse in Chicago where his second trial on federal corruption charges is underway Wednesday.

Blagojevich's attorneys opened his defense with a witness list of prominent politicians, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. Blagojevich himself will take the stand Thursday.

In the first trial, jurors deadlocked on all but one guilty verdict of lying to a federal agent.

Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff, testified that no one asked him for anything in return for Blagojevich appointing Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett to Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

Earlier, Jackson had suggested that Blagojevich did not name his wife to a state post -- director of the Illinois lottery -- because Jackson refused to donate $25,000 to Blagojevich’s campaign.

Federal prosecutors are accusing Blagojevich of attempting to steer the Senate seat to Jackson in return for more than $1 million in campaign contributions from Jackson's political allies. Jackson has said he knows nothing of such a deal and is not charged with any wrongdoing.

Blagojevich will take the stand Thursday in a last-ditch attempt to show the allegations amount to little more than political bluster -- all talk and no action.

"That's a tough sell," said former U.S. attorney Ron Safer, who says Blagojevich is guilty of a crime "if he attempted it."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
May192011

Rod Blagojevich to Take the Stand Next Week in Retrial?

Tim Boyle/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is planning to take the stand in the retrial for corruption charges brought against him, a source tells ABC affiliate WLS in Chicago.

Blagojevich, who currently faces 20 counts, has maintained his innocence since his 2008 arrest.
 
Defense attorneys for Blagojevich told WLS that he has been prepping to take the stand, but that the decision to have him testify is not definite.

Court is in recess until Monday for jurors.  However, lawyers are expected to meet Friday with Judge James Zagel to discuss the defense's witness list, which may hint at defense plans for their arguments, scheduled to begin Monday.

After three weeks of arguments and witnesses, the prosecution rested its case Thursday.  

Defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky tells WLS their case could take up to three days to present.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb142011

Blagojevich Says Release of Additional Wiretaps Will Exonerate Him

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich continued efforts this week to try to bolster his claim that federal prosecutors built their corruption case against him by selectively releasing wiretap recordings of his wheeling and dealing, while omitting from the records the tapes that would exonerate him.

In the latest District Court filing submitted Monday, the Blagojevich legal team tried to build a case that he was not trying to "sell" the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. In fact, the former Illinois governor has claimed, he was hard at work trying to broker a political horse trade that would appoint Lisa Madigan, the state's attorney general and daughter of the Illinois House speaker, to the post.

Blagojevich has asked a federal judge to allow him to play previously undisclosed recordings in court because they "establish the evolution of Blagojevich's thought process" and "prove his innocent intent."

Blagojevich was convicted on just one of 24 charges against him last fall, but prosecutors have vowed to retry him, with court dates set for April. But with the initial case came the damaging release of Blagojevich's phone conversations during the turbulent period that followed Obama's presidential win. In one conversation played by the government, Blagojevich could be heard describing the senate seat as a "valuable thing," and, "if I don't get what I want and I'm not satisfied with it, then I'll just take the Senate seat myself."

But in the court filing Monday, Blagojevich's legal team says the ability to play the additional segments of the federal government's recordings would help prove there is a "missing" recording, from a Dec. 8, 2008 call. The request for that tape prompted a separate filing last week, asking for records from a phone call between a Blagojevich aide and Rahm Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff.

The former governor alleges that Emanuel, who is now running for mayor in Chicago, had offered to help broker a deal to give Madigan the seat and secure passage of a legislative package for Blagojevich. While campaigning last week, Emanuel downplayed the court filing, noting that an internal look into the matter by the administration found "nothing inappropriate or any deal making."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio