UPDATED 12/07/11 3:35 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison on Wednesday, after apologizing for making “terrible mistakes,” capping a nearly three-year saga for Illinois.READ MORE: Deaths Of Wild Swans Found Around Wolf Lake Blamed On Parasites
The sentence is the longest ever handed down to a convicted Illinois governor and one of the longest for any political corruption case in state history.
“His abuse of the office of governor is more damaging than the abuse of any other office in the United States except president,” U.S. District Judge James Zagel said in announcing Blagojevich’s sentence for 18 corruption charges, including his attempt to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.
“When a state senator takes a bribe, that’s one person out of 59. … You are not to be compared with those who hold lesser positions in government. You, as a governor are seen to control all of them, though I concede in practice you don’t,” Zagel added. “When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily or quickly repaired.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports from the courthouse
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser has reaction from the public
After the sentence was announced Blagojevich mouthed “don’t worry” to his wife, Patti, and touched her hand before walking up to the bench, as the judge ordered him to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on Feb. 16.
The judge also imposed fines and penalties totaling nearly $22,000.
Blagojevich addressed reporters briefly in the Dirksen Federal Building lobby after the sentencing. He solemnly quoted the poet Rudyard Kipling as he reacted to the sentence.
“Rudyard Kipling, in his poem, ‘If,’ among the things he wrote is, ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors the same,’ ” he said. “For Patti and I, and especially me, this is a time to be strong. This is a time to fight through adversity. This is a time for me to be strong for my children; to be strong for Patti.”
He said his next mission is to go home with his wife and explain to his daughters, Amy, 15, and Annie, 8, what will happen from here.
“This is a time for me to be strong for my children, strong for Patti,” he said. “We’re going to keep fighting on through this adversity. See you soon.”
Outside the courthouse, defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said there are plans to appeal the sentence “for all the reasons that we said in our post-trial motion.” He had no further comment.
Blagojevich did not speak again when he returned to his Ravenswood Manor home, although he did take the time to shake hands with supporters and autograph a book.
Moments later, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who led the prosecution against Blagojevich, also spoke to reporters after the sentencing. He also led the prosecution of convicted former Gov. George Ryan, and he lamented the fact that Illinois has now sent two consecutive governors to prison.
“In any state, it would be awful if two governors were convicted in a century, and yet we’ve seen it twice in five years,” Fitzgerald said.
He said the 14-year sentence for Blagojevich “sends a strong message that the public has had enough and judges have had enough. This has to end.”
He said any elected official who is thinking about becoming corrupt should now be acutely aware of the consequences, and Blagojevich’s sentence should serve as a deterrent — even though Ryan’s 6 1/2-year sentence apparently did not.
“If a 14-year sentence doesn’t stop someone, I wouldn’t want to be sitting in front of a judge after that,” he said.
In making a final argument for a sentence of 15 to 20 years, Assistant U.S. Atty. Reid Schar disputed defense attorneys’ claims that Blagojevich’s actions didn’t hurt anyone.READ MORE: Firefighters Rescue Person Hanging From Window Of Burning Building In West Pullman
“They completely ignore the fact that the defendant’s criminal activity corrupted the decision making process of the state of Illinois,” Schar added. “His criminal activity, without doubt, has further eroded the public’s trust in government and in government officials.”
Schar also questioned the defense’s honesty in claiming Blagojevich accepts full responsibility for his crimes, implying they were only telling the judge what he wanted to hear and accusing Blagojevich of lying on the stand throughout his seven days of testimony on his own behalf at his second trial.
“He is incredibly manipulative and he knows how to be. To his credit, he’s clever about it,” Schar said. “He picks out one person or a group of 12 sitting in a jury box … and he says what he thinks they want to hear.”
Schar noted that one of the jurors at the second trial was originally from Boston, another was a librarian and another worked at a Greek restaurant and Blagojevich tried to appeal to each juror in his testimony.
“Out of nowhere, we heard about how he loved the city of Boston,” Schar said. He also noted that Blagojevich talked about his own library at home and about stopping at a Greek restaurant for coffee.
“He had it all set out because he had an audience he wanted to get to and he wanted to manipulate that audience to help himself,” Schar said.
In making his plea for mercy, Blagojevich was contrite and said he was “unbelievably sorry,” in stark contrast to his steadfast proclamations of innocence going back to his arrest three years ago.
Before the sentence, an emotional Blagojevich told the judge: “I accept the people’s verdict, judge. They found me guilty and all I can say is I never wanted to hurt anyone … I would hope you can find some mercy.”
Blagojevich also lamented the impact the case has had on his family, particularly his daughters.
“I want to apologize to my wife. I love her. She has stood by me in the worst of times, not only the best of times. … Of course I want to apologize to my children and explain this is not how we saw this,” Blagojevich said. “Because of my stupidity and the mistakes that I’ve talked about … I’ve ruined their innocence. … It’s not like their name is Smith, they can’t hide.”
While Zagel said he gave credit for accepting responsibility for his crimes and for good works on behalf of children while governor, he also said it was too late for the governor to think his concern for his own family would spare him a lengthy sentence for his crimes.
“I don’t doubt his devotion to children, but this is not an unusual situation. … It is not exceptional,” Zagel said. “I see case after case where good fathers are also bad citizens. … If it is any consolation to his children, it is not to stand being convicted of a bad father.”
The judge said the children of felons undoubtedly suffer when their parent goes to prison, but he said the only one to blame for that is the defendant.
Where Blagojevich will serve his time is still to be determined, although his defense team asked that he serve his sentence in a prison camp.
Normally, defendants sentenced to more than 10 years in prison don’t go to prison camps, instead being sent to more traditional prisons, but Zagel said he was likely to recommend a prison camp for Blagojevich. The final decision will be determined by the federal Bureau of Prisons.
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At his retrial earlier this year, Blagojevich, 54, was convicted of 17 charges, including allegations he tried to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.
Last summer, at his first trial, jurors convicted him of lying to the FBI, but were deadlocked on all other charges.
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 15 to 20 years, noting that Blagojevich showed no remorse for his actions and has repeatedly painted the prosecution of him as a political witch hunt.
The defense had pushed for a sentence of as little as probation, arguing that Blagojevich’s actions did not cause any public harm and that h he did not profit from the crimes he was convicted of committing.MORE NEWS: COVID-19 In Illinois: Lowest Daily Coronavirus Case Count And Infection Rate In More Than Six Weeks
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin released a statement after the sentencing: “I hope today’s sentencing finally draws this sad chapter in Illinois history to a close.”