Pleas, model jail behavior don't earn Blagojevich reduced term, judge decides

Former Illinois governor serving 14-year term for attempted extortion, wire fraud

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By Susan Berger, Washington Post

A federal judge today upheld Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence for public corruption, rejecting tearful appeals from the former Illinois governor’s wife and daughters during a resentencing hearing in Chicago. Blagojevich, his signature thick man of black hair now turned white, appeared via closed-circuit television from the Colorado prison where he has been for four years.

“I think I’m a very different person and I think I’ve become someone who has learned a lot from the mistakes I have made,” he told Judge James Zagel.

Last year, a federal appeals court threw out some of the most sensational convictions, ruling that the Democrat did not break the law when he tried to get a Cabinet appointment in exchange for appointing White House adviser Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat left vacant by Barack Obama’s election as president. Prosecutors decided not to retry the former governor on those charges, and that led to his legal team to seek a sentence reduction.

Blagojevich’s crimes included attempted extortion from campaign contributors, corrupt solicitation of funds, wire fraud and lying to federal investigators.

Prosecutors had opposed the request, stating that Blagojevich, who appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice” while awaiting trial in the case, has failed to accept responsibility or show remorse.

In an extensive letter-writing campaign, his fellow inmates had described “The Gov” to the judge as “humble” and a “good man” who is knowledgeable and a great teacher. He spends his days teaching inmates about Washington, Roosevelt, Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. and working in the law library. He reads the Bible every night, they said.

“I am a drug addict and he treats me like an equal,” one inmate wrote. Another writes about the negativity and hopelessness in prison and said he enjoys his time seeing Blagojevich in the law library to get “my daily dose of encouragement.”

This picture of Blagojevich painted by the letter writers stands in sharp contrast to the former governor at both trials who seemed to work the crowd as if he were campaigning, signing autographs, hugging supporters and boldly declaring his innocence. Dressed to the nines, chatty, eager to schmooze, he was quick to recite a famous quote, shake a hand and apologize for his language heard on the tapes.

His wife, Patti, would always be at his side, yanking him by the hand as he stopped to take one more photo. He was upbeat and cracked jokes during court breaks. To third-graders touring the Federal Building, he once said, “If I knew you, maybe I would have named you to the Senate seat.”

Goodman said in all his years practicing law he has never seen a letter writing response like the one Blagojevich has received. He is hopeful that the judge will view the case differently, he said, because the conviction involving the Senate seat has been overturned and what is left is purely about campaign fundraising. And raising funds, Goodman said, “is part of the job as governor.”

“The case has changed,” Goodman said. “The problem for the government is there really isn’t a comparable case they can point to. Blagojevich is the only one in modern history in prison for breaking the rules of political fundraising.”

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