Judge Rejects Ex-Gov. Blagojevich's Plea for Shorter Prison Sentence

by | August 9, 2016

By Patrick M. O'Connell and Jason Meisner

A federal judge imposed the same 14-year prison sentence on Rod Blagojevich despite pleas for mercy from the former governor, his wife and two daughters.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel said Blagojevich still stood guilty of the same corruption even after a federal appeals court threw out five of the 18 counts for which he was convicted.

The judge said he realized the suffering of Blagojevich's family and applauded Blagojevich being a model prisoner, but Zagel said the former governor's conduct in prison over the last 4 years was not as big a factor as the wrongdoing he committed as governor.

Blagojevich apologized at his resentencing moments after he grew emotional as one of his two daughters read a statement in court in which she called him "an amazing father."

"I recognize it was my actions and my words that led me here," Blagojevich, 59, said by closed-circuit television from a federal prison in Colorado.

But prosecutors were not impressed, saying Blagojevich had not changed and urging Zagel to impose the same 14-year sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Bonamici emphasized that Blagojevich apologized for making "mistakes" but said he has never taken responsibility for the crimes he was convicted of or shown true remorse.

Speaking without notes, Blagojevich said he had been too ambitious and recognized he erred by fighting too many battles in public.

"This can be a beginning to make amends for the past," he said while looking directly into the camera.

The former governor said it pains him that his actions have hurt his family and blamed himself for putting his loved ones in that situation.

He said his time behind bars "has put me closer to God."

"I'm a very different person," he said, concluding his remarks.

Moments earlier, Annie Blagojevich told Zagel she talks every night with her father by phone. Blagojevich wept as his daughter made her statement.

His older daughter, Amy, also spoke in court, saying it was difficult to stay connected with her dad or even to have private conversations with him during visits to prison.

The remarks came after Blagojevich's wife, Patti, made an emotional plea to the judge Monday night by letter.

"Please give Annie the chance for a normal happy childhood, that has slipped away from Amy," Patti Blagojevich wrote of the couple's two children. "I am pleading with you, indeed begging you, to please be merciful."

Blagojevich's lawyer, arguing for a lower prison sentence, portrayed the former governor as a changed man, a model prisoner who no longer holds "the arrogance and anger" he once did.

Attorney Leonard Goodman was the first to speak as Blagojevich looked on via videoconference. The first images of Blagojevich confirmed rumors: He is now gray-haired.

A federal appeals court ordered the resentencing last year after dismissing some of the counts on which Blagojevich was convicted.

Goodman told the judge that the remaining charges against the ex-governor are "significantly different," emphasizing that Blagojevich never profited from his actions. He paid for his own clothes, his daughters' schooling, even baseball tickets, the lawyer said.

"We believe he is ready to come home," Goodman said in urging the judge to reduce Blagojevich's sentence to five years in prison.

In her letter to the judge on the eve of resentencing, Patti Blagojevich said her husband calls every night from the federal prison in Colorado and that the family has visited him more than 20 times during his years in custody.

(c)2016 Chicago Tribune