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Blagojevich - I'm not a crook, everybody does it?

  Blagojevich - I'm not a crook, everybody does it?

First - "Rod Blagojevich liked to portray himself as a cut above other politicians when it came to ethics"

Now - "his lawyers now are trying to argue that his conduct was nothing out of the ordinary for a politician"


Blagojevich road-tests new defense: Many others in politics 'play the game'

By Jeff Coen and Bob Secter, Tribune reporters

8:23 p.m. CDT, May 17, 2011

As governor, Rod Blagojevich liked to portray himself as a cut above other politicians when it came to ethics, once famously accusing legislators of being eager to cater to high-powered lobbyists who "eat fancy steaks" and "shuffle in Gucci loafers."

But that stance for Blagojevich underscores a paradox in his defense. He stands accused of trying to swap official action for campaign cash, and his lawyers now are trying to argue that his conduct was nothing out of the ordinary for a politician.

Blagojevich's lawyer, Aaron Goldstein, previewed the pitch Tuesday during a hearing — held away from the jury — as he referred to testimony from a trio of witnesses who allege Blagojevich tried to put the squeeze on them for campaign cash in 2008.

All three, Goldstein said, have a history of raising cash for other political figures with the power to dispense favors. But now they were claiming to have had reservations about Blagojevich, Goldstein said sarcastically.

"They are saying, 'I felt pressure,'" Goldstein said. "…Yet these are the same people who play the game."

Blagojevich was simply practicing politics as usual, the defense argued, and claims of victimhood are not credible from witnesses steeped in the art of horse-trading.

Several prosecution witnesses have testified about feeling pressured to give to Blagojevich's campaign fund. But U.S. District Judge James Zagel has blocked the defense from pointing out that all had long experience raising money for other politicians and often hoped that would translate into tangible benefits for themselves or their businesses.

Zagel has said he is not impressed with the defense attempt to convince jurors that the line between legal and illegal fundraising is hazy, hard to discern and perhaps routinely breached. The judge said Blagojevich's attorneys can present such an argument to jurors only if they put on a defense and call witnesses of their own, perhaps including Blagojevich — something the defense claimed it would do at the former governor's first trial and then did not.

One of the witnesses was back on the stand Tuesday. Gerald Krozel, an executive at road construction firm Prairie Materials, told jurors that Blagojevich and associates seemed to link a possible $6 billion tollway expansion to whether Krozel could raise $500,000 in campaign contributions from construction groups that would benefit from the plan.

Zagel kept Krozel from testifying about raising money for politicians dating to former Republican Gov. Jim Thompson. Outside the presence of the jury and under questioning from the defense, Krozel said he once raised campaign cash at the suggestion of Thompson, a former corruption-busting U.S. attorney who had advised him to "get more politically involved" before Thompson agreed to a repaving project on the Eisenhower Expressway that would benefit Krozel's company.

Alonzo "Lon" Monk, a former Blagojevich chief of staff who became a lobbyist and fundraiser for Blagojevich after leaving that job, also testified Tuesday about his role in the alleged shakedown of Krozel as well as horseracing executive John Johnston.

Monk, once a close friend to Blagojevich, told jurors that he and Blagojevich schemed to come up with ways to ensure Johnston made a $100,000 donation before the then-governor would sign a bill requiring that a portion of the receipts from riverboat casinos be diverted to racetracks.

Monk and Blagojevich were captured on an FBI wiretap at Blagojevich's campaign office on Dec. 3, 2008, going over what Monk described to jurors as a hypothetical conversation he could have with Johnston. The goal was to ask for $100,000 by sending a veiled signal that it was linked to the bill while not specifically saying so.

"Look, I wanna go to him without crossing the line and say, give us the (expletive) money," said Monk, who went to Johnston later that day. "And one has nothing to do with the other … but give us the (expletive) money."




Prosecutors paint Blagojevich as slippery and evasive


Prosecutors paint Blagojevich as slippery and evasive

By Jeff Coen and Bob Secter, Tribune reporters

9:16 p.m. CDT, June 2, 2011 The federal prosecutor finally got his shot at the allegedly corrupt former governor of Illinois, and from the first moment, he pounced.

"Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar asked sternly, staring toward the witness stand Thursday at Rod Blagojevich.

"Yes," answered Blagojevich, drowning out an objection from one of his own lawyers. Things only came unhinged from there.

At times, two of Blagojevich's lawyers were objecting almost simultaneously as the former governor and Schar argued and U.S. District Judge James Zagel tried to keep control of the long-awaited cross-examination.

Blagojevich had spent a relaxed and sometimes jovial five days on the stand answering friendly questions from his lawyers that portrayed him as an earnest, if sometimes indecisive, officeholder bent on using his powers for the public good. Blagojevich had acted humble and at times apologized as he explained what he thought he was trying to do when he had to name a successor for Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate after Obama's 2008 election as president.

But when prosecutors finally had their turn, they instantly tried to transform Blagojevich into a caricature of a slippery politician skilled in not just bending the truth but outright dissembling. As he often did when confronted with tough questions as governor, Blagojevich tried to filibuster, asking for transcripts of phone calls and giving answers that had little to do with what he was being asked.

It was clear immediately that this was no normal witness Schar was scrutinizing. Like many politicians whose skills are forged at debates and contentious news conferences, Blagojevich is seasoned in the art of answering the question he wants to answer rather than the one put to him.

When he was still governor, Blagojevich could just walk away from pesky reporters to avoid the heat. Ducking is much harder on the witness stand.

Schar asked Blagojevich about his conviction last summer for lying to the FBI about his knowledge of fundraising. Minutes after that federal jury rendered its verdict, wasn't Blagojevich lying again to a gaggle of media in the lobby of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse? Schar asked. At that news conference, Blagojevich complained that his conviction was unfair because the FBI refused to allow a court stenographer to sit in on the 2005 interview that led to the charge against him.

That, Schar suggested, was misleading because FBI agents had set down recording equipment "right in front of you," but Blagojevich's own lawyer had refused to allow them to use it.

Blagojevich insisted that a court stenographer was "a different issue."

And round and round they went for several minutes with Blagojevich refusing to acknowledge that Schar's version was accurate.

"Asked and answered," Blagojevich said at one point, seemingly objecting himself as he borrowed language from the lexicon of trial attorneys.

Schar stayed on the topic of Blagojevich's alleged lying by pointing out the former governor once directed an adviser to plant a false item in a Chicago Sun-Times gossip column suggesting U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was a rising contender for the Senate post.

Wasn't that a lie? Schar asked. "That was a misdirection play in politics," Blagojevich said.

"It was a lie," Schar said again.

"I don't see it that way," Blagojevich said.

The former governor said he was just trying to bolster the chances for a so-called Madigan deal he has testified so much about.

Prosecutors contend that Blagojevich was angling to steer the pick to Jackson because supporters of the congressman had promised to reward Blagojevich with $1.5 million in donations. Blagojevich, on the other hand, said he was merely floating Jackson as a stalking-horse to scare national Democratic leaders, who didn't want Jackson, into helping him with his real play: pressuring Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan into a grand deal to swap legislative action for the appointment of his daughter, Lisa, the state attorney general, to the Senate.

Schar asked if Blagojevich was trying to deceive public officials because he knew no one would challenge him.

"It's the quarterback faking a handoff and throwing long," Blagojevich said. "It's part of the business. That was designed for the inside political world."

The final hours of Blagojevich's questioning by his own lawyers examined his approach to filling the Senate vacancy in the days before his arrest.

In early December 2008, Blagojevich said, he planted the seed for his plan to use Jackson as leverage by talking him up in phone calls with several top Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, then the incoming chief of staff to President-elect Obama.

It wasn't until Dec. 8 that Blagojevich said he finally made a firm decision to go ahead with the Madigan plan, and he wanted to use Emanuel as the go-between. "I went to bed that night thinking I was a day or two away from making that deal happen," Blagojevich said.

The next morning, however, Blagojevich was arrested at his home. No proposal was ever broached to the Madigans, and defense lawyers hoped the jury would be left with the impression that was entirely the fault of government agents for stopping negotiations before they could start.

When Schar got a crack at Blagojevich, he tried to trip up the impeached governor with his own words — including those from his quickie post-arrest book, "The Governor." The prosecutor stressed that the tome was subtitled: "Finally the truth behind the political scandal that continues to rock the nation."

Schar noted that Blagojevich's lawyers earlier Wednesday had played a wiretap of the then-governor on Dec. 8 instructing top aide John Harris to hold off on trying to consummate a Madigan deal.

In the book, however, Blagojevich wrote that on the phone that day, he told Harris that Lisa Madigan was his top choice for senator and that Harris should get moving on trying to reach an agreement.

"Oh, that is true, she was my first option," Blagojevich answered.

Well, Schar said, where in the call had Blagojevich so directed Harris?

"It's not in this particular call, and I met with John Harris in person that day," Blagojevich said.

When the jury was sent home for the weekend, Schar was pressing Blagojevich on a somewhat forgotten character at the retrial: convicted fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko. The prosecutor wanted to know whether Blagojevich was worried that his former adviser was cooperating with federal authorities against him.

Schar asked several times, pressing for a "yes" or "no" answer.

"I was told he was put in solitary confinement to lie about me," Blagojevich said, citing a Tribune report about a letter Rezko wrote to a judge from a federal lockup claiming he was being pressured to make up lies.

When the trial resumes Monday, the government promised to play a recording of a previously undisclosed conversation in which Blagojevich tells an aide that he would hold off on a Senate pick until Jan. 6, 2009, because that's the date he thought Rezko was to be sentenced in federal court. That sentencing — which still has not occurred — would have signaled an end to the cooperation threat, Blagojevich allegedly said on the tape, and his choice to succeed Obama would have less "baggage."

At the end of the day and with the jury gone, Zagel lectured defense lawyers about how questioning of their client would go much smoother if they could get Blagojevich to stop arguing with Schar and to discipline himself to not blurt out answers anyway when an objection has been raised.

He also asked Schar to predict how long his questioning of Blagojevich might last. At this rate, the prosecutor said, "the leaves could turn."



Blagojevich - Guilty!!!!

I am too biased to objectively comment on this. I suspect that Blagojevich is guilty as hell because of my negative view of government nannies. On the other hand there is a slim chance he could have been railroaded by the prosecutors like they railroad other innocent people.


Jury convicts ex-Ilinois Gov. Blagojevich at retrial

Jun. 27, 2011 01:22 PM

Associated Press

CHICAGO - Rod Blagojevich, who rode his talkative everyman image to two terms as Illinois governor before scandal made him a national punch line, was convicted Monday of a wide range of corruption charges, including the incendiary allegation that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's Senate seat.

The verdict was a bitter defeat for Blagojevich, who had spent 2 1/2 years professing his innocence on reality TV shows and later on the witness stand. His defense team had insisted that hours of FBI wiretap recordings were just the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud.

He faces up to 300 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines are sure to significantly reduce his time behind bars.

After hearing the verdict, Blagojevich turned to defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky and asked "What happened?" His wife, Patti, slumped against her brother, then rushed into her husband's arms.

Before the decision was read, the couple looked flushed, and the former governor blew his wife a kiss across the courtroom, then stood expressionless, with his hands clasped tightly.

The decision capped a long-running spectacle in which Blagojevich became famous for blurting on a recorded phone call that his ability to appoint Obama's successor to the Senate was "f---ing golden" and that he wouldn't let it go "for f---ing nothing."

The former governor spoke only briefly with reporters as he left the courthouse, saying he was disappointed and stunned by the verdict.

"Well, among the many lessons I've learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less, so I'm going to keep my remarks kind of short," Blagojevich said, adding that the couple wanted "to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out."

Blagojevich, who has been free on bond since shortly after his arrest, becomes the second straight Illinois governor convicted of corruption. His predecessor, George Ryan, is now serving 6 1/2 years in federal prison.

The case exploded into scandal when Blagojevich was awakened by federal agents on Dec. 9, 2008, at his Chicago home and was led away in handcuffs. Federal prosecutors had been investigating his administration for years, and some of his closest cronies had already been convicted.

"The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said before a bank of television cameras after the arrest.

Blagojevich, who was also accused of shaking down businessmen for campaign contributions, was swiftly impeached and removed from office.

The verdict provided affirmation to Fitzgerald, one of the nation's most prominent prosecutors, who had condemned Blagojevich's dealings as a "political crime spree." Mentioned at times as a possible future FBI director, Fitzgerald pledged to retry the governor after the first jury deadlocked on all but the least serious of 24 charges against him.

This time, the 12 jurors voted to convict the 54-year-old Blagojevich on 17 of 20 counts after deliberating nine days. He also faces up to five additional years in prison for his previous conviction of lying to the FBI.

Blagojevich was acquitted of soliciting bribes in the alleged shakedown of a road-building executive. The jury deadlocked on two charges of attempted extortion related to that executive and funding for a school.

Judge James Zagel has barred Blagojevich from traveling outside the area without permission. A status hearing for sentencing was set for Aug. 1.

Federal guidelines and previous sentences meted out to other corrupt Illinois politicians suggest Blagojevich could get around 10 years in prison. But judges have enormous discretion and can factor in a host of variables, including whether a defendant took the stand and lied. Prosecutors have said that Blagojevich did just that.

After his arrest, Blagojevich called federal prosecutors "cowards and liars" and challenged Fitzgerald to face him in court if he was "man enough."

In what many saw as embarrassing indignities for a former governor, he sent his wife to the jungle for a reality television show, "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here," where she had to eat a tarantula. He later showed his own ineptitude at simple office skills before being fired on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice."

To most Illinois residents, he was a reminder of the corruption that has plagued the state for decades.

For the second trial, prosecutors streamlined their case, and attorneys for the former governor put on a defense -- highlighted by a chatty Blagojevich taking the witness stand for seven days to portray himself as a big talker but not a criminal.

Testifying was a gamble for the former congressman, who had promised to take the stand in his first trial but failed to do so after his attorneys rested their case without calling a single witness.

Prosecutors dropped Blagojevich's brother as a defendant and cut down on the number of charges against the ousted governor. They summoned about half as many witnesses, asked fewer questions and barely touched on topics not directly related to the charges, such as Blagojevich's lavish shopping or his erratic working habits.

Blagojevich seemed to believe he could talk his way out of trouble from the witness stand. Indignant one minute, laughing the next, seemingly in tears once, he endeavored to counteract the blunt, greedy man he appeared to be on FBI wiretaps. He apologized to jurors for the four-letter words that peppered the recordings.

"When I hear myself swearing like that, I am an F-ing jerk," he told jurors.

He clearly sought to solicit sympathy. He spoke about his working-class parents and choked up recounting the day he met his wife, the daughter of a powerful Chicago alderman. He reflected on his feelings of inferiority at college where other students wore preppy "alligator" shirts. Touching on his political life, he portrayed himself as a friend of working people, the poor and elderly.

He told jurors his talk on the wiretaps merely displayed his approach to decision-making: to invite a whirlwind of ideas -- "good ones, bad ones, stupid ones" -- then toss the ill-conceived ones out. To demonstrate the absurdities such brainstorming could generate, he said he once considered appointing himself to the Senate seat so he could travel to Afghanistan and help hunt down Osama bin Laden.

Other times, when a prosecutor read wiretap transcripts where Blagojevich seems to speak clearly of trading the Senate seat for a job, Blagojevich told jurors, "I see what I say here, but that's not what I meant."

The government offered a starkly different assessment to jurors: Blagojevich was a liar, and had continued to lie, over and over, to their faces.

Lead prosecutor Reid Schar started his questioning of Blagojevich with a quick verbal punch: "Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?"

"Yes," Blagojevich eventually answered after the judge overruled a flurry of defense objections.

The proof, prosecutors said, was there on the FBI tapes played for jurors. That included his infamous rant: "I've got this thing and it's f---ing golden, and I'm just not giving it up for f---ing nothing. I'm not gonna do it."

Prosecutors may also have been helped by testimony from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who was called to testify by the defense but whose testimony backfired. During cross-examination, he told jurors that Blagojevich did not appoint Jackson's wife to head the Illinois Lottery in part because Jackson hadn't given the governor a $25,000 campaign donation.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Carrie Hamilton likened Blagojevich as Illinois' chief executive to a corrupt traffic cop tapping on car windows and pressing drivers for a bribe to tear up a speeding ticket.

Will Blagojevich go to the pen?


Rod Blagojevich sentencing: Experts weigh in on possible prison term

Chicago Tribune / June 27, 2011

By Annie Sweeney, Tribune reporter

8:11 p.m. CDT, June 27, 2011

On paper at least, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich could be sentenced to as much as 300 years in prison following his conviction Monday on 17 counts of corruption. But how much does he really face?

Seasoned criminal-defense attorneys and former prosecutors consulted by the Tribune estimate Blagojevich could be looking at about 10 years, based on recent public corruption sentences here. The sentence could take months to formulate.

While many factors will go into the decision by U.S. District Judge James Zagel, Blagojevich's unorthodox strategy to repeatedly go public with his claims of innocence could come back to haunt him, the experts said.

His conviction also means Blagojevich's decision to testify could hurt him at sentencing if the judge concludes the former governor lied under oath, they said.

Zagel's displeasure with the former governor's behavior has been on display at his retrial as well as the first trial last summer that ended with the jury largely deadlocked except for one guilty count.

The judge "is not going to sentence him on who he is," veteran attorney Robert Loeb said of Blagojevich. "He is going to sentence him on what he has said and done."

Blagojevich already faces sentencing for lying to the FBI, the lone count on which he was convicted at the first trial. That jury deadlocked on the remaining counts, setting the stage for the retrial.

Before Blagojevich is sentenced, a probation officer using federal sentencing guidelines will calculate the range of punishment faced by Blagojevich. Then prosecutors and Blagojevich's lawyers will argue about why more time should be added or shaved off.

Since the sentencing guidelines were made advisory and not mandatory about six years ago, Zagel has wide discretion to impose the sentence he thinks is just and fair.

"It's the essential judgment call," said former federal prosecutor Dean Polales, who is now a criminal-defense attorney. "The burden is entirely on him."

Among the factors to be weighed are criminal history, the nature and circumstance of the offense, and the need for deterrence. Judges often also consider family circumstances.

The government will be certain to raise Blagojevich's breach of the public trust as well as the pervasive culture of corruption that swirled around his administration, Loeb said.

Blagojevich also will have an opportunity to make his own case to Zagel, arguing for any positive impact he thinks he had in his political career. Backers could offer support and seek mercy in letters to the judge.

But also at play could be Blagojevich's knack for making a national spectacle of himself, doing endless television interviews and public appearances that prosecutors thought occasionally distorted the evidence against him.

Loeb and others said Blagojevich's media blitzes before both trials could matter to Zagel if it suggests Blagojevich denigrated the legal process or the seriousness of the charges against him.

Polales said Zagel might also consider whether Blagojevich used his many appearances to attempt to taint both juries — an allegation the government leveled.

The experts said Zagel is likely to punish Blagojevich as well as a deterrent for other elected officials. with four Illinois governors convicted — three on charges related to their office — since the 1970s, Zagel could decide to send a strong message.

"Apparently the convictions have not served as a deterrent to the culture of corruption," Loeb said.



Convicted Blagojevich faces prospect of prison

Posted 6/28/2011 8:12 AM ET

By Michael Tarm And Karen Hawkins, Associated Press

CHICAGO — Stunned and nearly speechless after hearing the verdicts against him, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will wake up Tuesday to the stark reality that he is likely headed to federal prison within months, leaving behind his wife, two young daughters and comfortable home in a leafy Chicago neighborhood.

A jury convicted him Monday on 17 charges, including trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and attempting to shake down executives for campaign cash. The convictions carry a combined maximum prison sentence of around 300 years, but legal experts say a federal judge is likely to send him away for around a decade, give or take a few years.

An irrepressible Blagojevich had said before the retrial began that he refused to even contemplate the prospect of prison. But red-eyed, his face drawn and frowning, he hurried out of the courthouse after the verdict was read.

The broke and impeached ex-governor told reporters that he and his wife, Patti, "have to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out." His two daughters are 8 and 14.

Uncharacteristically, the 54-year-old Democrat had little more to say, adding only that he was stunned by the verdict.

"Well, among the many lessons I've learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less, so I'm going to keep my remarks kind of short," Blagojevich said.

He is almost certain to appeal the convictions, and his defense attorneys filed a number of motions to lay the groundwork for that.

If he does end up in prison, Blagojevich would follow a path well-trodden by Illinois governors, including Blagojevich's predecessor, former Republican Gov. George Ryan -- now serving 6 1/2 years in a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

In Illinois's book of political infamy, though, Blagojevich's chapter may go down as the most ignominious because of the allegations he effectively tried to hock an appointment to Obama's Senate seat for campaign cash or a job.

Blagojevich will probably receive around 10 years in prison, with little chance he would get more than 15, said former Chicago-based federal prosecutor Jeff Cramer said. Another former prosecutor, Phil Turner, said Judge James Zagel might look to Ryan's sentence and mete out a similar one for Blagojevich.

Zagel did not set a sentencing date, but Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago attorney who defends clients in federal court, said it's likely Blagojevich would be sentenced late this year. When he is, Pissetzky said there is a chance he could end up serving in the same prison as George Ryan.

The verdict, coming after his first trial ended last year with the jury deadlocked on most charges, was a bitter defeat for Blagojevich, who spent 2 1/2 years professing his innocence on reality TV shows and later on the witness stand. His defense team insisted that hours of FBI wiretap recordings were just the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud.

After hearing the verdict, Blagojevich turned to defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky and asked "What happened?" His wife, Patti, slumped against her brother, then rushed into her husband's arms.

Before the decision was read, the couple looked flushed, and the former governor blew his wife a kiss across the courtroom, then stood expressionless, with his hands clasped tightly.

The verdict capped a long-running spectacle in which Blagojevich became famous for blurting on a recorded phone call that his ability to appoint Obama's successor to the Senate was "f---ing golden" and that he wouldn't let it go "for f---ing nothing."

The case exploded into scandal when Blagojevich was awakened by federal agents on Dec. 9, 2008, at his Chicago home and was led away in handcuffs. Federal prosecutors had been investigating his administration for years, and some of his closest cronies had already been convicted.

Blagojevich was swiftly impeached and removed from office.

The verdict provided affirmation to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, one of the nation's most prominent prosecutors, who, after the governor's arrest, had condemned Blagojevich's dealings as a "political corruption crime spree."

The key question for the jury was whether to accept the defense suggestion that Blagojevich's activities amounted to "the kind of political wheeling and dealing that is common in Illinois and around the country."

"That," said Fitzgerald, his voice rising, "couldn't be any further from the truth. ... Selling a Senate seat, shaking down a children's hospital and squeezing a person to give money before you sign a bill that benefits them is not a gray area. It's a crime."

Fitzgerald pledged to retry the governor after the first jury failed to reach a decision on all but the least serious of 24 charges against him.

The jury voted to convict on 17 of 20 counts after deliberating nine days heading into Monday. Blagojevich also faces up to five additional years in prison for his previous conviction of lying to the FBI; Pissetzky said Zagel would almost certainly sentence Zagel for all the convictions at once.

Judges have enormous discretion in sentencing and can factor in a host of variables, including whether a defendant took the stand and lied. Prosecutors have said that Blagojevich did just that.

Blagojevich was acquitted of soliciting bribes in the alleged shakedown of a road-building executive. The jury deadlocked on two charges of attempted extortion related to that executive and funding for a school.

Zagel has barred Blagojevich from traveling outside the area without permission. A status hearing to discuss sentencing was set for Aug. 1.

All 12 jurors -- 11 women and one man -- spoke to reporters after the verdict, identifying themselves only by juror numbers. Their full names were to be released Tuesday.

Jurors said the evidence that Blagojevich tried to secure a high-paying, high-powered position in exchange for the appointment of Obama's successor in the Senate was the clearest in the case.

"There was so much more evidence to go on," said Juror No. 140. Jury members said they listened and re-listened to recordings of Blagojevich's phone conversations with aides. They also acknowledged finding the former governor likable.

"He was personable," Juror No. 103 said. "It made it hard to separate what we actively had to do as jurors."

Richard Kling, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law who watched much of the trial, said the defense had no choice but to put Blagojevich on the stand, even though doing so was risky.

"The problem was with some of his explanations," Kling said. "It reminded me of a little kid who gets his hand caught in a cookie jar. He says, 'Mommy I wasn't taking the cookies. I was just trying to protect them and to count them.'"


Rod Blagojevich guilty of 17 corruption charges

By Judy Keen, USA TODAY

CHICAGO — Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was convicted of 17 felonies Monday in his political corruption retrial, including 11 counts stemming from what federal prosecutors called his attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat once occupied by President Obama.

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was found guilty Monday on 17 of 20 corruption charges.

"I frankly am stunned," Blagojevich, a Democrat, said after the verdict. He was found not guilty of one count, and the jury of 11 women and one man deadlocked on two. In his first trial last year, Blagojevich was found guilty of one count of lying to the FBI; the jury could not reach agreement on 23 others.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the verdict was "a loud and clear message that Gov. Blagojevich committed very serious crimes." After Blagojevich's arrest in 2008, Fitzgerald said it interrupted "a political corruption crime spree" that "would make (Abraham) Lincoln roll over in his grave."

A sentencing hearing was set for Aug. 1. Blagojevich, 54, could face 300 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines for the counts of which he was convicted. U.S. District Judge James Zagel told him that he cannot travel outside northern Illinois without permission.

Blagojevich was arrested in December 2008 when he was in his second gubernatorial term. He was impeached and removed from office in January 2009. Since then, he has insisted on his innocence, written a memoir, hosted a radio show and was fired by Donald Trump on Celebrity Apprentice.

The verdict "sends a strong signal to other politicians who might be thinking, 'I'm above the law,'" said David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a non-partisan watchdog group. Changes in state ethics and campaign-finance laws since Blagojevich was ousted mean that if he "were somehow elected tomorrow, he could not do again what he did as governor," Morrison said.

The first trial took seven weeks; the retrial began April 20. Although taped Blagojevich phone conversations remained the centerpiece of prosecutors' case, they simplified their presentation and dropped racketeering charges for the second trial. Blagojevich's new defense team also changed tactics for the retrial. Most significantly, Blagojevich, who did not testify the first time, took the stand for seven days.

Chicago jury consultant Alan Tuerkheimer said the prosecution's revamped case "made it significantly more jury-friendly." After the first trial, he said, a juror said deciding the case was like being given the keys to the space shuttle and told to go fly it. In the retrial, Tuerkheimer said, "there was a timeline, fewer counts," and jury instructions "were pared down."

In his testimony, Blagojevich insisted that the taped calls, in which he appeared to bargain for cash or a high-ranking job for himself in exchange for appointing someone to the Senate seat, reflected standard political horse-trading, not a crime.

At one point in the trial, Blagojevich lawyer Aaron Goldstein asked his client, "Did you ever demand anything in exchange for the Senate seat?" Blagojevich replied, "Absolutely not."

Chicago lawyer Joel Bertocchi, a former federal prosecutor, said Blagojevich's decision to testify was not a mistake.

"I don't think it hurt his case, and it played to his strength as a campaigner," he said.

Ron Safer, a Chicago lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney, said Blagojevich "had to testify. He had to explain the damning words on tape." The verdict, Safer said, "is the people, through the jury, saying they're tired of business as usual. That was his defense and they didn't buy it."

Jurors who spoke to reporters identified themselves only by their juror numbers. One female juror said they know that political bargaining is routine behind the scenes, but "when it is someone representing the people, it crosses the line, and I think we sent a pretty clear message."

Illinois state Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat who served on the Blagojevich impeachment committee, said the former governor is "symptomatic of the corruption that has seized Illinois politics."

Noting that Blagojevich joins three other recent governors — two Democrats and a Republican — who were convicted of crimes, Franks said, "I'm not sure that we're going to be able to recover."

Rod Blagojevich is not ready for prison


Ex-con politicians say Rod Blagojevich is not ready for prison

By John Keilman, Tribune reporter

5:53 p.m. CDT, June 27, 2011

When Betty Loren-Maltese caught glimpses of Rod Blagojevich preening for the cameras during his corruption trial last year, one thought kept coming back to her: This guy is not ready for prison.

Loren-Maltese, the former town president of Cicero, is an expert on the subject. After being convicted in 2002 of helping bilk her town out of $12 million, she spent seven years in federal custody before gaining her freedom last year.

Though she thinks Blagojevich toned down his celebrity act during the second trial, Loren-Maltese still wonders how he'll adjust to the stark, often humiliating existence behind bars.

"Most people have a fixed opinion of politicians," she said. "A lot of prisoners feel (politicians) might even be responsible for them being in prison. I don't think it'll be easy for him, but it'll definitely change his attitude and make him realize he's not the king."

Illinois is rich in experience when it comes to politicians who have served time. A few recently offered the Tribune their memories of life behind the prison gates, as well as their assessments of how Blagojevich might fare.

Judging by his public antics, they agreed, he might not do well.

"He was the Big Kahuna, a guy spoiled by government like a lot of us were," said James Laski, the former Chicago city clerk who did a year at a federal lockup. "He's going to go to prison and be a number. … They don't really give a damn that he used to be the governor or was on 'Celebrity Apprentice.'"

The first step in Blagojevich's incarceration will come when the U.S. Bureau of Prisons figures out where to send him. Spokesman Edmond Ross said the bureau makes those decisions based on a person's criminal history, medical needs and security risk.

Fame, he added, can also be part of the consideration.

"If the individual has high publicity, they may be placed in a facility farther away from the media market they're coming from — though that would be a little hard for him," Ross said of the nationally known Blagojevich.

The bureau tries to keep inmates within 500 miles of home, he said, but there are no guarantees. Laski, who was convicted in 2006 of taking bribes, ended up in Morgantown, W.Va., about 530 miles from Chicago.

He recalled that when he arrived at the prison, he had to surrender his clothes and all of his belongings, even a few prayer cards. He was given a strip search, prison scrubs a size too big and a pair of mismatched canvas shoes.

That's when he learned the importance of the prison commissary. He procured a better pair of shoes there, as well as food that was tastier than the cafeteria grub.

Ross said inmates can spend a maximum of $290 a month at the commissary. The money comes either from deposits made by relatives or from the meager wages earned by prison work.

All able-bodied inmates are required to take a job, Ross said, and hourly wages range from 10 cents to $1. Laski labored in the kitchen, dishing out food and mopping floors, while Loren-Maltese, who served her time in California, had a more varied resume, toiling as a janitor, a baker and a warehouse worker.

Her incarceration came with strip searches, subpar medical care and expensive commissary supplies. What got her through, she said, was an abiding optimism — ultimately unrewarded — that she would be vindicated.

Scott Fawell took a different attitude. The former aide to Gov. George Ryan spent 4 1/2 years at a prison camp in Yankton, S.D., after his 2003 conviction on fraud and racketeering charges. Fawell said he abandoned hope before his trial, figuring that federal prosecutors never lose. Once he headed to prison, he vowed to make the best of it.

"Don't complain, don't be bitter," he said, describing his attitude. "You'll wake up and still be in the same place."

By his description, the daily routine was a far cry from "Cool Hand Luke." He lifted weights, played racquetball and softball, and read all the books and magazines he could handle. Still, life could be dull — he never got a calendar or wore a watch because he didn't want to think about time — and life had to be lived squarely within the prison's rules.

Blagojevich will have to get used to that, Fawell said, and will suffer if he doesn't curb his flamboyance.

"They don't want any showboats," he said. "He can shake hands all he wants, but once he walks through the door, he'll tone it down. If he doesn't, they'll tone him down. They can give you the worst jobs, shake your room down. You go in there, they're in charge. There's no discussion, no debate. If they want you to scrub the floors on your hands and knees, that's what you'll do."

Former Gov. George Ryan is still serving his sentence at a prison camp in Terre Haute, Ind. Though wracked by ailments ranging from diabetes to Crohn's disease, he works in the carpentry shop making signs, said his attorney, former Gov. Jim Thompson.

"He's treated fairly down there," Thompson said. "He's a stoic kind of person."

The worst part, Thompson said, is Ryan's separation from his wife, Lura Lynn, whose health is said to be deteriorating. Ryan is not due to be released until 2013, and President Barack Obama has denied his bid for clemency, Thompson said.

Though Lura Lynn Ryan has visited her husband in recent weeks, Thompson said it takes a heavy physical toll on her. Ryan has asked the Bureau of Prisons for a transfer to the Kankakee County Jail, where he might have more freedom to visit his wife at home, but the bureau has yet to act on the request, Thompson said.

"He's just terrified that something's going to happen to her and he won't be there," Thompson said.

The former inmates agreed that the toughest part of incarceration was being away from their families.

Laski said it still hurts to think about the milestones he missed, adding that if Blagojevich doesn't fully understand what he and his family are about to face, that will soon change.

"I think reality is going to finally set in with this guy that he's going to go away," he said. "I feel very, very sorry for him."


Judge sets $450,000 bail for Blagojevich, lower than feds sough


Judge sets $450,000 bail for Blagojevich, lower than feds sought

By Jeff Coen Tribune reporter

1:55 p.m. CDT, July 15, 2011

A federal judge today set bond at $450,000 for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and ordered him to post his North Side house and Washington condo as collateral despite the defense declaring that the Chicago residence is up for sale.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel then called Blagojevich and his wife Patti before him to issue the standard warning that they could lose both properties if the former governor violated bond conditions.

“I have no intention of violating the bond,” Blagojevich said.

After his conviction last month on 17 counts of wire fraud, bribery, attempted extortion and conspiracy, the judge barred Blagojevich from traveling outside northern Illinois without court permission. No sentencing date has been set yet.

Federal prosecutors today sought a $1 million bond secured by the two properties.

“I understand the symbolism of a million dollars, but $450,000 is enough,” Zagel said.

The judge asked Blagojevich’s lawyers how much equity the family held in both residences.

Attorney Aaron Goldstein consulted with Patti Blagojevich for a moment and then reported to the judge that the couple had about a combined $600,000 in the two properties.

Zagel also today denied a request by Blagojevich’s lawyers to talk to jurors who found him guilty of several shakedown attempts, including a bid to sell President Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat in 2008.

“I would like to let the ashes cool,” said Zagel, who indicated he would be willing to reconsider the issue later.

Zagel had allowed the lawyers to talk to jurors after Blagojevich’s first trial last summer ended largely in a deadlock, but the judge did so to help in preparation for the second trial.

On his way out of the courthouse, Blagojevich spoke briefly to reporters before saying he had to leave to pick up his older daughter from summer school.

"Patti and I were here to comply, as we always try to do with all the different rules, and we signed all the necessary papers," Blagojevich said. "We'll see you guys."

Blagojevich did not answer questions about his Chicago home being for sale.

His attorney, Sheldon Sorosky said the home is listed.

"So if anyone's watching this and is interested in a nice house in Ravenswood, contact the Blagojeviches," he said.

Sorosky said the former governor's spirits are "good, very good" and promised he would file motions seeking to keep Blagojevich free during the appeal process.

Friday's statement in federal court was the first time that Blagojevich or anyone associated with him had publicly indicated plans to sell his longtime house in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood on the North Side, which he and his real estate agent wife, Patti, bought in 1999 for $505,000.

The 11-room, Mediterranean-style house currently is not listed in the real estate multiple listing service, but it might be for sale informally, in what is known in the real estate industry as a private listing.

No asking price has yet been revealed.

Built in the 1920s, the 3,817-square-foot brick house has three bedrooms and was extensively renovated by the Blagojeviches after they purchased it.

"Unfortunately, this house had been neglected for many years," Patti Blagojevich told the Tribune in 1999.

Rod Blagojevich also owns a third-floor, 986-square-foot condominium unit in the Waterford building in Washington, D.C., which he purchased for $183,000 in February 1997, shortly after he was sworn in as a congressman. He had listed that unit for a time in early 2009 but never sold it, and continues to own it.

Freelance writer Bob Goldsborough contributed.

Blagojevich gets 14 years!!!


Blagojevich gets 14 years in prison for corruption

by Michael Tarm - Dec. 7, 2011 12:55 PM

Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Rod Blagojevich, the ousted Illinois governor whose three-year battle against criminal charges became a national spectacle, was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday, one of the stiffest penalties imposed for corruption in a state with a history of crooked politics.

Among his 18 convictions is the explosive charge that he tried to leverage his power to appoint someone to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash or land a high-paying job.

Judge James Zagel gave Blagojevich some credit for taking responsibility for his actions -- which the former governor did in an address to the court earlier in the day -- but said that didn't mitigate his crimes. Zagel also said Blagojevich did good things for people as governor, but was more concerned about using his powers for himself.

"When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired," Zagel said.

As the judge announced the sentence, Blagojevich hunched forward and his face appeared frozen. Minutes later, his wife, Patti Blagojevich, stood up and fell into her husband's arms. He pulled back to brush tears off her cheek and then rubbed her shoulders.

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. [ Sounds like a bank robber claiming he shouldn't be punished because he helped old ladies cross the street. Who cares! He shouldn't have been robbing banks. Some goes for Blagojevich. Blagojevich is a crook who got what he deserved. ]

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."

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 15 to 20 years, which Blagojevich's attorneys said was too harsh. The defense also presented heartfelt appeals from Blagojevich's family, including letters from his wife and one of his two daughters that pleaded for mercy.

But the judge made it clear early in the hearing that he believed that Blagojevich had lied on the witness stand when he tried to explain his scheming for the Senate seat, and he did not believe defense suggestions that the former governor was duped by his advisers.

The 54-year-old was ordered to begin serving his sentence on Feb. 16. In white-collar cases, convicted felons are usually given at least a few weeks to report to prison while federal authorities select a suitable facility. Blagojevich is expected to appeal his conviction, but it is unlikely to affect when he reports to prison.

Most of the prisons where Blagojevich could end up are outside Illinois. One is in Terre Haute, Ind., where Ryan is serving his own sentence. In prison, Blagojevich will largely be cut off from the outside world. Visits by family are strictly limited, Blagojevich will have to share a cell with other inmates and he must work an eight-hour-a-day menial job -- possibly scrubbing toilets or mopping floors -- at just 12 cents an hour.

According to federal rules, felons must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence a judge imposes -- meaning Blagojevich wouldn't be eligible for early release until he serves nearly 12 years.

Going into the sentencing, many legal experts said the governor -- who became a national punch line while doing reality TV appearances such as "Celebrity Apprentice" while his legal case unfolded -- was likely to get around 10 years. A former Blagojevich fundraiser, Tony Rezko, recently was sentenced to 10 1/2 years, minus time served.

Prosecutors have said Blagojevich misused the power of his office "from the very moment he became governor." He was initially elected in 2002 on a platform of cleaning up Illinois politics in the midst of federal investigations that led to the prosecution and conviction of Ryan.

Defense attorneys have said Blagojevich has already paid a price in public ridicule and financial ruin, and had proposed a term of just a few years.

Blagojevich's sentencing came just days before his 55th birthday on Saturday, and nearly three years to the day of his arrest at dawn on Dec. 9, 2008, when the startled governor asked one federal agent, "Is this a joke?" In a state where corruption has been commonplace, images of Blagojevich being led away in handcuffs still came as a shock.

It took two trials for prosecutors to snare Blagojevich. His first ended deadlocked with jurors agreeing on just one of 24 counts -- that Blagojevich lied to the FBI. Jurors at his retrial convicted him on 17 of 20 counts, including bribery and attempted extortion.

FBI wiretap evidence proved decisive. In the most notorious recording, Blagojevich is heard crowing that his chance to name someone to Obama's seat was "f---ing golden" and he wouldn't let it go "for f---ing nothing."

Blagojevich clearly dreaded the idea of prison time. Asked in an interview before his retrial about whether he dwelled on that prospect, he answered: "No. I don't let myself go there."

In the same interview, Blagojevich also explained that the family dog Skittles was bought after his arrest in to help his school-age daughters, Amy and Annie, cope with the stress of his legal troubles. He said he joked with them that, "If the worst happens (and I go to prison), you can get another dog and call him 'Daddy.'"

Here are some more articles on crooked Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.



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