Blagojevich’s Former Top Aide Gets 10 Days In Jail

Updated 03/28/12 – 9:29 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The man who was Rod Blagojevich’s chief of staff when the former governor was arrested for trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat has been sentenced to 10 days in jail for his role in Blagojevich’s corruption case.

John Harris was the star witness for the prosecution at the two trials that resulted in Blagojevich’s conviction on 18 corruption counts and 14-year prison sentence.

He had pleaded guilty in 2010 to conspiracy to commit bribery and faced up to five years behind bars. He had been seeking probation, but was given a sentence of 10 days in jail, two years of supervised release and a $1,000 fine at his sentencing hearing Wednesday afternoon.

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Harris, 50, began cooperating with federal prosecutors within days of his arrest and agreed to testify against Blagojevich, providing the bulk of the testimony against the former governor. Harris was sentenced less than two weeks after Blagojevich began serving his prison term.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel praised Harris for his cooperation with investigators and said that he sympathized with Harris having to deal with such a difficult boss as Blagojevich. But while heaping praise on Harris, the judge said that some, but minimal, time behind bars was necessary.

“The offense is so serious and so crucial that I cannot impose upon you a sentence that does not involve custody,” Zagel said.

Zagel spoke at length about Blagojevich and his working habits and how he wore down his staff. Zagel even said that if he were in Harris’ shoes he may have acted the same way.

“But I would have left sooner, much sooner,” Zagel said.

Before going to prison, Blagojevich claimed his motives were pure, but Harris was the first major figure to cooperate with the government — agreeing to do so three days after his arrest on the same day as Blagojevich in December 2008 — and told a much different story.

Harris admitted trying to help Blagojevich win appointment as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary or to find work heading a non-profit.

In a pre-sentence filing, attorney Terry Ekl argued that Harris warned Blagojevich not to attempt to sell President Barack Obama’s Senate seat, advising against several different scenarios, and ignored instructions from Blagojevich to shake down or threaten the Chicago Tribune or to withhold state business from banks that failed to assist Patti Blagojevich in finding work.

In a pre-sentencing filing submitted earlier this month Ekl argued Harris should be sentenced to unsupervised probation in light of his guilty plea and cooperation with the feds.

“Mr. Harris has acknowledged his full and complete responsibility for his conduct through his guilty plea, his execution of the plea agreement and, most importantly, his truthful testimony before this Court during the two trials of Defendant Rod Blagojevich,” Ekl wrote.

More than 40 current or former public officials had written Judge Zagel to attest to Harris’ character.

Harris resigned his post within days of his arrest and voluntarily gave up his law license shortly thereafter. Ekl said in his pre-sentencing filing that Harris has worked as an apprentice electrician’s helper, working on high-tension lines, to try to keep his family’s bills paid.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

  • zatso

    He had info on Patti and the government ignored that. She deserved as much blame as the old man.
    Probation should be considered after you serve hard time. What if they all got away with their nefarious schemes?
    Harris didn’t do anything heroic, he was just trying to save his own posterior.
    I’m sure some of the letters attesting to his character came from Madigan, Burke, Vrydolyak, Smith, Burge, and Ryan.

    I hope you get the picture.


  • Robert Kelly

    This guy is just a guilty as Rod. John was the go-to person Rod used for his evil deeds. The “I was just following orders” excuse will not work. If Obama does not win reelection this November, he’ll pardon the whole bunch.

  • John Bosanac

    Protect your self and stab your former friend in the back, and you get only 10 days in jail. While Blagojevich gets 14 years for intending to do criminal acts while in office. Seems that there are a few people who have been awfully quite during these trials, and it seems that certain people are getting rewarded making sure that Blagojevich went to jail. Why hasn’t Ald. Mel spoke up about his son in law? I’d bet if he would have sent a word through channels, Blagojevich could have gotten a lighter sentence or a slap on the wrist.

  • Zatso

    Well, I’m not happy with the sentence because it is too short. At least Zagel gave a token sentence to keep the vultures happy.

    Think about it, ten days is just too short. Is it really 81/2 days?

    That’s not enough time for the shower water to get warm.

    Perhaps it’s enogh time to outline his tell all book. He could formulate his resignation letter from his job as an apprentice electrical lineman.

    Oh, and that “I’m Sorry” letter to Rod saying he’ll miss him for Thanksgiving dinner.

    There is the law, but the law we see playing out these days is sure different for the small unconnected guy.

    And watch, the first thing that Harris will want to know, “When can I apply for reinstatement of my law license?”

  • Defense Attorney: ‘No Shock Or Surprise’ For Blago In Prison « CBS Chicago

    […] also said the 10-day sentence that Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, John Harris, received on Wednesday is “very troubling and seems extremely unfair” in light of Blagojevich’s 14-year […]

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