M. Spencer Green, Associated Press
CHICAGO — Rod Blagojevich, the ousted Illinois governor whose three-year battle against criminal charges became a national spectacle, was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday, one of the stiffest penalties imposed for corruption in a state with a history of crooked politics.
Among his 18 convictions is the explosive charge that he tried to leverage his power to appoint someone to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash or land a high-paying job.
Judge James Zagel gave Blagojevich some credit for taking responsibility for his actions — which the former governor did in an address to the court earlier in the day — but said that didn't mitigate his crimes. Zagel also said Blagojevich did good things for people as governor, but was more concerned about using his powers for himself.
"When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired," Zagel said.
As the judge announced the sentence, which includes a $20,000 fine, Blagojevich hunched forward and his face appeared frozen. Minutes later, his wife, Patti Blagojevich, stood up and fell into her husband's arms. He pulled back to brush tears off her cheek and then rubbed her shoulders.
On his way out of the courthouse, Blagojevich cited author Rudyard Kipling and said it was a time to be strong, to fight through adversity and be strong for his children. He said he and wife were heading home to speak to their daughters, and then left without answering any questions.
The twice-elected Democrat received by far the harshest sentence among the four Illinois governors sent to prison in the last four decades. He is the second in a row to go to prison; his Republican predecessor, George Ryan, currently is serving 6 1/2 years. The other two got three years or less.
Blagojevich, in a last plea for mercy, tried something he never had before: an apology. After years of insisting he was innocent, he told the judge he'd made "terrible mistakes" and acknowledged that he broke the law.
"I caused it all, I'm not blaming anybody," Blagojevich said. "I was the governor and I should have known better and I am just so incredibly sorry."
But Zagel gave him little leeway.
"Whatever good things you did for people as governor, and you did some, I am more concerned with the occasions when you wanted to use your powers ... to do things that were only good for yourself," Zagel said.
The judge said he did not believe Blagojevich's contention, as his lawyers wrote in briefings, that his comments about the corruption schemes were simply "musings." Zagel said the jury concluded and he agreed that Blagojevich was engaged in actual schemes, and the undeniable leader of those schemes.
"The governor was not marched along this criminal path by his staff," Zagel said. "He marched them."
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 15 to 20 years, which Blagojevich's attorneys said was too harsh. The defense also presented heartfelt appeals from Blagojevich's family, including letters from his wife and one of his two daughters that pleaded for mercy.
But the judge made it clear early in the hearing that he believed that Blagojevich had lied on the witness stand when he tried to explain his scheming for the Senate seat, and he did not believe defense suggestions that the former governor was duped by his advisers.
The 54-year-old was ordered to begin serving his sentence on Feb. 16. In white-collar cases, convicted felons are usually given at least a few weeks to report to prison while federal authorities select a suitable facility. Blagojevich is expected to appeal his conviction, but it is unlikely to affect when he reports to prison.
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