Blagojevich apologizes, acknowledges crimes were committed
"It comes late," U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel says
Blagojevich was found guilty of 17 corruption charges
The former governor was accused of trying to profit from Barack Obama's Senate seat
A federal judge sentenced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in prison for corruption Wednesday.
Blagojevich, who turns 55 Saturday, must start serving his prison term within 90 days, the judge ordered. He must also pay a $20,000 fine.
“This is the time to be strong,” Blagojevich told reporters as he left the Chicago federal courthouse. “This is the time to fight through adversity. This is the time for me to be strong for my children.”
The sentence followed a dramatic apology by Blagojevich to his state, his family and the judge, in which he said he is “unbelievably sorry.”
“I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on all that’s happened,” Blagojevich said. “I’m here convicted of crimes, and I am accepting of it, acknowledge it.”
“It comes late,” U.S. District Judge James Zagel said before imposing the prison sentence.
Zagel noted that Blagojevich did not resign as governor despite the indictments, but if he had it might have helped show he accepted responsibility.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, was accused of trying to profit as he considered whom to appoint to succeed Barack Obama when he vacated his Senate seat to move to the White House.
“There is a line between routine politics, horse trading and campaign politics,” Blagojevich said. “I thought they were permissible and I was mistaken.”
He was convicted of corruption in June after a jury returned 17 guilty verdicts against him.
Federal prosecutors sought a sentence of 15 to 20 years, but his lawyers called that excessive and asked the judge for leniency on Tuesday, even as they admitted for the first time that crimes were committed.
“He asked for a job in return (for Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat). That’s all he did at first. We accept that that’s a crime,” Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky said, according to CNN affiliate WLS. “He did it and he should not have done it (but) that crime does not call for a 15-year jail sentence.”
“Blagojevich betrayed the trust and faith that Illinois voters placed in him, feeding great public frustration, cynicism and disengagement among citizens,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said after the sentencing. “People have the right to expect that their elected leaders will honor the oath they swear to, and this sentence shows that the justice system will stand up to protect their expectations.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, also a Democrat, issued a statement saying Blagojevich promised reform, “but from the start, he relentlessly used his position to pursue illegal and morally bankrupt schemes motivated by power and greed.”
“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.”
A corrupt governor can be “more damaging than any other office in the United States, except that of the president,” Judge Zagel said before announcing the sentence.
“When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn, disfigured and not easily repaired,” Zagel said. “The harm here is not measured in the value of money or property. The harm is the erosion of public trust in government.”
Defense attorney Aaron Goldstein read letters from his relatives Tuesday asking the judge to be lenient.
“Your honor, I ask you humbly – with the life of my husband and the childhood of my daughters in your hands – be merciful,” his wife, Patti, wrote.
Their teenage daughter said: “I need my father. I need him here.”
“Why did the thoughts of his children not weigh heavily on his reckless conduct?” Zagel asked.
Blagojevich is the second consecutive Illinois governor convicted of corruption. Former Republican Gov. George Ryan is serving time in federal prison.
Read more about this story from CNN affiliate WLS.