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Judge Rips Blago’s Bid To Play New Tapes At Sentencing

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Rod Blagojevich

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. (Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (AP) — CHICAGO (AP) — The federal judge who will sentence Rod Blagojevich had harsh words for the former Illinois governor’s attorneys as he denied a request Monday to play new federal wiretap tapes in court.

Blagojevich was convicted at two separate trials on 18 corruption counts, including allegations he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. Blagojevich will be sentenced next week, and his lawyers last week submitted a list of 180 secret tape recordings the FBI made of the governor and others.

Parts of some recordings were played during his trials, but Blagojevich has long argued that authorities should “play all the tapes.” He says some of the recordings hold evidence demonstrating his innocence.

But Judge James Zagel said Blagojevich’s attorneys hadn’t said what they specifically wanted to prove and what sections of the tapes they wanted to use, echoing complaints made by federal prosecutors.

“What this motion requests is my blind approval of the use of whatever excerpts it decides are relevant to ‘lack of ill intent’ and admissible … at sentencing,” Zagel said. “That request is denied.”

Zagel also derided the timing of Blagojevich’s motion, which was filed Thanksgiving Day. He said the federal courts were closed except for emergencies both Thursday and Friday, and there was no reason for Blagojevich — who was convicted on 17 of 20 counts in June — to wait this long.

He also pointed out that the motion was dated Monday, Nov. 28, even though it was filed Thursday, and that his attorneys did not notify the judge when they filed it.

“This practice is difficult to defend under any circumstances and made more so because of the nature of the motion,” Zagel said.

Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky did not return messages seeking comment. Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment.

Blagojevich’s first trial ended deadlocked with jurors agreeing on just one of 24 counts — that Blagojevich lied to the FBI. Jurors at his recent retrial convicted Blagojevich on 17 of 20 counts, including bribery and attempted extortion related to his handling of a U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.

Most legal observers expect the 54-year-old former governor to receive about 10 years in prison, though he technically faces up to 305 years in prison. Both sides are expected to file their suggestions on sentencing this week.

Judges generally frown on felons who continue to maintain their innocence at sentencing, Chicago-based federal defense attorney Gal Pissetzky said last week.

“At sentencing, you need to accept the jury verdict and then fight for your innocence later on appeal,” he said. “If you continue to shove it in the judge’s face by fighting your innocence at sentencing, it takes away from your goal of less time in prison.”

The judge scheduled a Friday hearing on another Blagojevich request related to a government witness, John Wyma. Blagojevich’s attorneys are questioning whether Wyma helped the government “in exchange for a government benefit.” Prosecutors denied that allegation at trial.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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