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Blagojevich sentenced to 14 years

  |   Dec. 7, 2011 at 2:52 PM
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CHICAGO, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- A federal judge Wednesday sentenced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in prison and fined him $20,000 for corruption.

Blagojevich, who turns 55 next week, is to report to prison Feb. 16.

"The vast majority of the facts are not disputed," U.S. District Judge James Zagel said before imposing sentence on 18 counts. "It is difficult to dispute what is on the tapes," he said in reference to the wiretap evidence collected by the FBI.

"When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn, disfigured and not easily repaired," Zagel said. "The harm here is not measured in the value of money or property ... the harm is the erosion of public trust in government."

"Blagojevich betrayed the trust and faith that Illinois voters placed in him, feeding great public frustration, cynicism and disengagement among citizens. People have the right to expect that their elected leaders will honor the oath they swear to, and this sentence shows that the justice system will stand up to protect their expectations," U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said.

"This sentence sends a clear message that public officials cannot engage in corruption for personal benefit in exchange for political favors," said James Vanderberg, special agent-in-charge of the Chicago Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General.

Before Zagel imposed sentence, Blagojevich acknowledged, "I made my share of mistakes," adding, "I never set out to cause any harm." In pleading for mercy, Blagojevich said he had "no one to blame but myself."

"I accept your apology," Zagel said, but later added, "The jury did not believe [you] and neither do I. ... Your personality is not suitable for public service."

On his way out of the Dirksen Federal Building, Blagojevich quoted Rudyard Kipling's "If" and said it is time for him and his wife to be strong for their daughters and "keep fighting through this adversity."

Blagojevich refused to answer any questions shouted by reporters.

Blagojevich was convicted of strong-arming hospital and racetrack executives for $125,000 in campaign contributions and offering the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama to Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in exchange for $1.5 million in fundraising help.

Blagojevich is the fourth of the last nine Illinois governors to be sentenced to prison -- the first to be arrested while still in office. Former Gov. George Ryan is serving his mail and wire fraud sentences at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

Zagel noted Blagojevich never asked whether his actions were illegal.

"The governor was not marched along this political path alone," Zagel said, noting a number of other people have been prosecuted as part of the schemes.

The sentence followed a two-day hearing.

Prosecutors had asked for 15 to 20 years in prisoner for the ousted governor.

Without admitting guilt to preserve his appeal, Blagojevich said he never meant to commit any crime, apologized for attempting to try the case in the media and accepted blame for setting the schemes -- which never came to fruition -- in motion.

The case stemmed from Operation Board Games, a public corruption investigation of pay-to-play schemes, including insider-dealing, influence-peddling and kickbacks. The investigation began in 2003 and has resulted in convictions against 15 defendants.

Zagel said Tuesday imposing the maximum sentence of 30 years to life was "simply not appropriate" for Blagojevich's crimes. But he said the twice-elected Democrat intended to gain more than $1.6 million from his scheme and must be held accountable, even if he ultimately received nothing.

Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky acknowledged the former governor, removed from office in January 2009 after an impeachment trial, committed a crime when he asked for a job for himself in exchange for naming a replacement for Obama in the Senate.

"We accept the fact that's a crime, it's illegal, he should not have done it," Sorosky told Zagel. "That crime does not call for a 15-year jail sentence."

"Be merciful," Blagojevich's wife Patti wrote to Zagel in excerpts from a letter read in court.

"I need him here," Blagojevich daughter 15-year-old Amy wrote in a separate letter read at the hearing.

"I need him here for my high school graduation. ... I'll need him when my heart gets broken."

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