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Updated 11/30/11 – 6:34 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Federal prosecutors intend to ask a federal judge to sentence former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to a 15- to 20-year prison term. But defense attorneys are seeking a much lighter sentence, arguing Blagojevich never profited from the crimes on which he was convicted and caused no public harm.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel is scheduled to sentence Blagojevich on his corruption conviction next week. The sentencing hearing begins on Tuesday.
“Over the course of a relatively brief period of time, during his machinations surrounding the appointment of a United States Senator, and the shakedowns of hospital and racetrack executives, the defendant revealed his corrupt, criminal character,” prosecutors said in court filings. “But, as the evidence and Blagojevich’s conduct at his trials established, these were not isolated incidents. They were part and parcel of an approach to public office that defendant adopted from the moment he became governor in 2002.”
“Blagojevich’s criminal activity was serious, extended, and extremely damaging,” prosecutors said.
But defense attorneys called the prosecution’s request “exorbitant and grotesque,” arguing in their own filing that there was no public harm because Blagojevich never profited personally from his actions as governor and they argue he tried to follow the law as he understood it.
“There exists a substantial possibility that the prosecution hopes to send a strong message to Mr. Blagojevich that after two trials and years of investigation that they have defeated him. This possibility is all the more plausible when Mr. Blagojevich’s frequent and often strident public expressions of innocence are added to the mix,” defense attorneys wrote. “It is understandable that in a high profile case that has necessitated two trials, emotions run high on both sides. However, none of these realities excuse the exorbitant and grotesque disparity between the sentence the government advocates for Mr. Blagojevich (who received nothing) and that which the government has acceded to for other defendants in this and related cases (who profited enormously).”
Blagojevich’s attorneys did not make a specific recommendation for his sentence, but said his sentencing range under federal guidelines should start at 41 to 51 months and that he should get much less than that. Previously, defense attorneys have said they would make a compelling case for probation only.
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Defense attorneys have said they plan to make a compelling case for a sentence of probation for Blagojevich.
Blagojevich has been convicted of 18 corruption counts, including allegations that he was trying to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama in 2008.
In its sentencing recommendation, the government also noted that Blagojevich has yet to acknowledge any wrongdoing or accept any responsibility for his conviction, instead repeatedly painting the prosecution of him as a political witch hunt.
Prosecutors also noted that, in the defense’s pre-sentencing submissions to the Probation Department, the defense team “goes on at length in an attempt to relitigate the facts of this case, at times even presenting versions of facts that are at odds with Blagojevich’s trial testimony.”
“In providing a spin on events thoroughly rejected by the jury, Blagojevich does nothing to shed light on the circumstances of his criminal activity other than demonstrate his refusal to accept responsibility for his crimes,” prosecutors added.
CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said Blagojevich’s failure to admit he did anything wrong is a key factor of the government’s sentencing recommendation.
“They talk about the total lack of remorse. It talks about all his television appearances, all of his media appearances; just proclaiming his innocence,” Miller said. “He refuses to even come to grips with the fact that he may have done something wrong and they just hammered him on it.”
Defense attorneys seemed to try to blunt any damage that Blagojevich’s repeated denials of wrongdoing might cause for him at sentencing in the conclusion of their sentencing memo.
“Mr. Blagojevich has become, in connection with this case, a tragic figure – an individual who went from a twice-elected governor … to an impeached, unemployed criminal defendant, abandoned by all of his advisors and friends; a figure drawing public ridicule and scorn,” defense attorneys wrote. “Despite a strong and seemingly defiant exterior, no one is more acutely aware of the tragedy that has become of his life’s work and aspirations as is Mr. Blagojevich himself.”
Blagojevich, who has spent the past three years claiming he did nothing wrong, said after his conviction on 17 charges at his retrial this summer that the guilty verdict was “very surprising.” Leading up to his first trial last summer and the retrial this spring, he repeatedly went on TV and radio talk shows to insist that prosecutors were covering up evidence that he is innocent.
He also took the stand in his own defense for seven days. At trial, his defense team argued that the hours of FBI wiretap evidence amounted to nothing more than Blagojevich thinking out loud and that he never took any steps to get benefits for himself in exchange for his actions as governor.
While Miller said he thinks Zagel has already made up his mind about the sentence Blagojevich will face, Miller says the judge must have considered the sentence handed down last week to Antoin “Tony” Rezko.
Rezko got 10 ½ years for a multi-million dollar shakedown scheme in which he tried to squeeze kickbacks from companies seeking state business during Blagojevich’s tenure as governor.
“Previous to the Rezko sentencing, I would have thought that [Blagojevich] would have got about 9 ½,” Miller said. “But because Rezko got [10 ½ years], Judge Zagel really can’t give him less than Rezko.”
Prosecutors have pointed out that Rezko wasn’t even an elected official and that he accepted full responsibility for his actions and eventually cooperated with the prosecution of Blagojevich, but still got a 10 ½ year sentence.
They further argued that the 6 ½ year sentence that former Gov. George Ryan received in his own corruption case “did nothing to stop Blagojevich” from breaking the law himself, even though he ran for governor as a reform candidate in the wake of the Ryan scandal.