Judge rejects Blagojevich's plea for a reduced sentence after an appeals court threw out five of his 18 convictions
He is in a federal prison in Colorado for a corruption conviction
A federal judge Tuesday imposed the same 14-year sentence against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, despite pleas for a reduced term from his wife, two daughters and the disgraced former politician, himself, now serving time for corruption.
Blagojevich, 59, who was convicted in 2011 of charges including attempting to sell the Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama’s election, made an emotional plea for mercy to U.S. District Judge James Zagel via closed circuit television from a Colorado prison.
The former governor, in the fourth year of a 14-year prison term, later sobbed as his daughters addressed the court. “I need him more than ever,” daughter Annie, 13, told the court, according to CNN affiliate WBBM.
Dressed in a green prison uniform, his once-thick head of dark hair now white, Blagojevich admitted making many mistakes, the station reported.
“I recognize my words and actions led me here,” he told the court. “I wish I could turn the clock back and make different choices.”
An appeals court last year threw out five of his 18 convictions but upheld others relating to soliciting campaign contributions in exchange for naming someone to the empty seat.
Outside of the court, his wife, Pattie, said her husband’s strength will get their family through his absence.
“Once again unfortunately, I have to express our profound disappointment in the ruling by Judge Zagel,” Pattie Blagojevich said, standing with daughters Amie and Annie. “From our point of view and from the point of view of thousands of people that have reached out to me over the last 4 years, we find his sentence unusually cruel, heartless and unfair.”
Leonard Goodman, Blagojevich’s attorney, opened up the possibility of taking the case to the Supreme Court.
“Someday, a court is going to have to take these issues on and explain what is the difference between a request for a campaign contribution and a request for a cash bribe,” he told reporters.
Goodman said his client’s actions were wrong but that he was not trying to enrich himself. He told the court that Blagojevich “made extraordinary efforts to be better,” and has become a changed man after four years behind bars.
His client is a model prisoner, Goodman said, adding that more than 100 of the former politician’s fellow inmates wrote letters of support to the court.
Prosecutors opposed a reduced sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Riggs Bonamici told the court that Blagojevich admitted mistakes but has never acknowledged breaking the law, WBBM reported.
Without taking responsibility for his criminal acts, she said, “there can be no rehabilitation.”
Zagel agreed, saying that the public trust had been eroded by the former governor’s wrongdoing, the station reported.
Blagojevich stared ahead, looking sad and stunned.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, was accused of trying to profit as he considered whom to appoint to succeed Obama after he vacated his Senate seat to move to the White House.
He was convicted of corruption after a jury returned 18 guilty verdicts against him.
Federal prosecutors had originally sought a sentence of 15 to 20 years but his lawyers called that excessive and asked the judge for leniency, even as they admitted for the first time that crimes were committed.
He was found guilty of multiple counts involving wire fraud and extortion, and acquitted on one count of bribery. The jury was unable to reach verdicts on two counts of attempted extortion.
Blagojevich became the second consecutive Illinois governor convicted of corruption. Former Gov. George Ryan is serving time in federal prison.
Blagojevich was taken into federal custody in December 2008, less than two years into his second term as governor. A federal grand jury indicted in him April 2009.
The allegations prompted his impeachment by Illinois’ House of Representatives and his removal from office by the state Senate in 2009.
At the time of his arrest, prosecutors said court-authorized wiretaps caught Blagojevich offering Obama’s Senate seat in exchange for personal gain, including a job with a nonprofit or union organization, corporate board posts for his wife, campaign contributions or a post in Obama’s administration.
Blagojevich’s defense argued that he just liked to talk and that he ended up with nothing.
After his removal from office, the former Cook County, Illinois, assistant prosecutor, state representative and Golden Gloves boxer remained in the public eye, appearing in a Chicago comedy show, releasing an autobiography, and competing on the TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.”
CNN’s Brad Parks contributed to this report.