Blagojevich gets extra month before prison term

By Nomaan Merchant

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 13 2011 3:35 p.m. MST

FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2011 file photo, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks to reporters as his wife Patti looks on at the federal building in Chicago after being sentenced for 14 years on 18 corruption counts. On Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011, U.S. District Judge James Zagel agreed to allow Blagojevich to report to prison March 15. He previously was ordered to begin on Feb. 16. Zagel also agreed to recommend that Blagojevich be sent to the Englewood prison in Colorado. Federal prison officials have the final say.

M. Spencer Green, File, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

CHICAGO — A federal judge is allowing Rod Blagojevich an extra month of freedom before he must start a 14-year sentence for corruption and, at the ousted Illinois governor's request, recommended that he be sent to prison in Colorado, 1,000 miles away from his Chicago home.

Blagojevich's attorneys told James Judge Zagel on Tuesday that he needed extra time to help his family move into a new home before he goes to prison. The Chicago house, where federal agents woke up Blagojevich in December 2008 to arrest him on corruption charges, has been on the market for months. Its listing price was recently reduced, and Blagojevich's attorneys said Tuesday that they think it can be sold soon.

The former governor held many impromptu news conferences and meetings with supporters outside the home after his arrest, but his family announced they would sell it after he was convicted on almost all charges at his second trial earlier this year.

Zagel also agreed Tuesday to recommend that Blagojevich be sent to the low-security Englewood federal prison in Littleton, Colo., outside of Denver. Federal prison officials have the final say on where Blagojevich goes.

The prison is one level of security above a minimum-security camp like the one where Blagojevich's predecessor, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, is serving a 6 1/2 year sentence for racketeering and fraud. Felons with a sentence longer than 10 years typically are placed in low-security facilities, Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke said.

Attorney Sheldon Sorosky said Blagojevich's wife and two daughters had "absolutely no plans" to move to Colorado if Blagojevich is sent there. He wouldn't say why Blagojevich did not ask for a closer prison.

"That was his personal choice," Sorosky said. "I don't know why he chose it."

Blagojevich, who turned 55 on Dec. 10, was sentenced last week on 18 corruption-related counts, including charges that he tried to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. Blagojevich was also convicted of trying to shake down hospital and racetrack executives for campaign donations, and of lying to the FBI.

Inmates are typically placed within 500 miles of their home to make family visits easier, Burke said. The length of an inmate's sentence is "one of the biggest factors that we consider, but there are many, many others," he said.

If officials decide to place Blagojevich in a low-security prison, other facilities in nearby states might be more difficult for his family to visit. A low-security prison in rural Milan, Mich., is about a 4 1/2-hour drive from Chicago. Other facilities in Minnesota and Kentucky are much longer drives.

The Englewood facility, meanwhile, is close to Denver International Airport, a 2 1/2-hour flight from Chicago. Englewood prison is home to another high-profile inmate, former Enron Corp. president Jeffrey Skilling.

Burke said federal prison officials would not disclose where Blagojevich is headed until he arrives at prison.

Zagel gave Blagojevich a sentence close to the 15 to 20 years sought by prosecutors. Blagojevich's attorneys asked for a lesser sentence, and he repeatedly apologized at his sentencing hearing for what he called "terrible mistakes."

"I caused it all. I'm not blaming anybody," Blagojevich said in court. "I was the governor and I should have known better and I am just so incredibly sorry."

According to federal rules, felons must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence a judge imposes, meaning that Blagojevich wouldn't be eligible for early release until he serves nearly 12 years.

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