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Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich found guilty of corruption

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks to the media with his wife, Patti, at the Federal Courthouse Monday in Chicago. He was convicted of 17 of the 20 charges against him.

Associated Press

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks to the media with his wife, Patti, at the Federal Courthouse Monday in Chicago. He was convicted of 17 of the 20 charges against him.

CHICAGO — There was no escape for Rod Blagojevich the second time around. The former Illinois governor was convicted in a retrial Monday of a wide range of corruption charges, including trying to sell President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.

And for once, Blagojevich could barely speak.

Driven from office by the scandal that made him a national punch line, he now faces a significant prison term that experts said could be 10 to 15 years.

It was a bitter defeat for the man who rode his talkative everyman image to two terms as governor and insisted that hours of FBI wiretap recordings were just the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud.

But after the verdict, it was a quieter Blagojevich who stepped before a forest of microphones and cameras — the kind of scene he once relished as a politician — and spoke for barely 30 seconds, his eyes red, his face drawn and frowning.

"Well, among the many lessons I've learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less, so I'm going to keep my remarks kind of short," he said.

Blagojevich spent 2½ years professing his innocence on reality TV shows and the witness stand. During his first trial, a federal jury convicted him of only the least serious charge and deadlocked on the others.

There was no such reprieve this time. After nine days of deliberations over three weeks, the jury found him guilty of 17 of 20 charges, making him the second straight Illinois governor convicted of corruption.

After hearing the verdict, Blagojevich turned to defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky and asked "What happened?" His wife, Patti, slumped against her brother, then rushed into her husband's arms.

The 54-year-old Democrat, who has been free on bail since shortly after his arrest, said only that he was disappointed and stunned by the verdict. He said the couple wanted "to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out." His two daughters are 8 and 14.

The case exploded into scandal when Blagojevich was awakened by federal agents on Dec. 9, 2008, at his Chicago home and was led away in handcuffs. Federal prosecutors had been investigating his administration for years, and some of his closest cronies had already been convicted.

The verdict provided affirmation to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, one of the nation's most prominent prosecutors, who, after the governor's arrest, had condemned Blagojevich's dealings as a "political corruption crime spree."

On Monday, he said the key question for the jury was whether to accept the defense suggestion that Blagojevich's actions amounted to "the kind of political wheeling and dealing that is common in Illinois and around the country."

"That," said Fitzgerald, his voice rising, "couldn't be any further from the truth. ... Selling a Senate seat, shaking down a children's hospital and squeezing a person to give money before you sign a bill that benefits them is not a gray area. It's a crime."

Fitzgerald pledged to retry the governor after the first jury failed to reach a decision on all but the least serious of 24 charges against him.

On Monday, the jury voted to convict on 17 of 20 counts after deliberating nine days. Blagojevich also faces up to five more years in prison for his previous conviction of lying to the FBI.

Blagojevich was acquitted of soliciting bribes in the alleged shakedown of a road-building executive. The jury deadlocked on two charges of attempted extortion related to that executive and funding for a school.

Blagojevich seemed to believe he could talk his way out of trouble from the witness stand. He sought to counteract the blunt, greedy man he appeared to be on FBI wiretaps and apologized to jurors for the four-letter words that peppered the recordings.

He said the wiretaps merely displayed his approach to decision-making: to invite a whirlwind of ideas — "good ones, bad ones, stupid ones" — then toss the ill-conceived ones out.

Lead prosecutor Reid Schar started his questioning of Blagojevich with a quick verbal punch: "Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?"

After the judge overruled a flurry of defense objections, Blagojevich eventually answered: "Yes."


The sentencing

Judge James Zagel has barred Blagojevich from traveling outside the area without permission. A status hearing to discuss sentencing was set for Aug. 1. The charges carry a possible sentence up to 300 years in prison, but federal guidelines mean he will serve only a fraction of that. Two legal experts speculated that Blagojevich would probably receive around 10 years in prison, with little chance that he would get more than 15.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich found guilty of corruption 06/27/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 27, 2011 10:57pm]
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