Rod Blagojevich sentenced to 14 years in prison
Ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday on 17 charges of corruption, including trying to auction off the US Senate seat that Barack Obama vacated upon becoming US President.
AFP - Ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday for trying to auction off President Barack Obama's vacated US Senate seat and a host of other corruption charges.
The Democratic governor was arrested in the midst of what prosecutors called a "political corruption crime spree" just weeks after Obama's historic November 2008 election.
He was convicted of 17 corruption counts in June after his first trial resulted in a hung jury on all but one of the charges.
"The harm here is not measured in the value of money and property," Judge James Zagel told Blagojevich in handing down the sentence.
"The harm is the erosion of the public trust in government; (people's) confidence in and trust in government."
The expletive-laden transcripts of Blagojevich's secretly recorded conversations and his subsequent antics created fascinating political theater.
While Obama managed to emerge untainted, the scandal shone a spotlight on the state's corruption-filled political scene and cast a shadow on his early days in office.
Five of the past nine Illinois governors have been indicted or arrested for fraud or bribery, and Blagojevich's predecessor, Republican George Ryan, is currently serving a six-and-a-half year jail term for fraud and racketeering.
Blagojevich's lawyers urged Zagel not to make an example of Blagojevich, noting that Blagojevich never lined his pockets like other recently convicted politicians, but instead was merely convicted of pushing for campaign donations and a plum job in exchange for political favors.
Blagojevich, 54, was also convicted trying to shake down a children's hospital, a construction executive and a racetrack owner for campaign contributions, as well as trying to get the owner of the Chicago Tribune newspaper to fire editorial writers who were critical of his leadership.
He appeared to be a chastened man Wednesday, tearfully apologizing for his "self-absorbed" and "immature" comments and for trying to fight the case in the media, even while insisting that he never meant to do anything wrong.
"I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions and the things I did and I thought I could do. I'm not blaming anybody," Blagojevich said before the sentence was handed down.
"I never set out to break the law. I never set out to cross lines."
But Blagojevich's prior unrepentant swagger and insistence that he was simply engaged in political horse-trading was held against him.
The circus began when FBI released a transcript of secret tape in which Blagojevich called his chance to appoint a new senator to replace Obama "fucking golden," and said "I'm not just gonna give it up for fucking nothing."
Blagojevich defied his party by appointing attorney Roland Burris to the fill Obama's vacated US Senate seat, prompting a showdown in Washington as Democrats tried to block his entry to the venerable institution.
The bizarre show took another twist when Blagojevich skipped the beginning of his impeachment trial and instead flew to New York for a series of media appearances in which he slammed the "kangaroo court."
He was soon ousted from office despite an impassioned plea to keep his job and spent the months before his first trial proclaiming his innocence on the US media circuit, including during a short-lived stint on the TV show "Celebrity Apprentice."
His first trial ended in August with a conviction on a charge of lying to federal agents and a jury deadlocked on the 23 other counts in the indictment, including racketeering, bribery, attempted extortion, and wire fraud.
Prosecutors immediately vowed to retry the case while the flamboyant politician and media phenomenon returned to the airwaves, pitching everything from his innocence to pistachios.
Blagojevich took the stand the second time around, something court observers said did little to help his case.
"At times I felt it was manipulative and I would have preferred to have just heard the facts," one juror said of his testimony.