Blagojevich jury: 'We sent a message'

June 27, 2011 at 5:29 PM
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CHICAGO, June 27 (UPI) -- The foreman of the federal jury that convicted ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Monday and the attorney who prosecuted him said the verdict conveys a warning.

"It sends a message," the foreman told a post-trial news conference after convicting Blagojevich of 17 of 20 counts, including a scheme to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after he was elected president. "We know that there's a lot of bargaining that goes on behind the scenes. … When it's someone representing the people, it crosses the line."

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald echoed the foreman's statement, calling the verdict "bittersweet" in that it came just five years after another federal jury convicted Blagojevich's predecessor, George Ryan, who is serving a 6 1/2-year prison term for fraud and racketeering.

Fitzgerald said Blagojevich was arrested before he actually could complete the sale of Obama's seat because "we don't like to see Senate seats sold."

"Our job is to prevent crime, not just prosecute crime," Fitzgerald said, adding it was "clear to us we had to step in before the Senate seat was sold."

Fitzgerald said he considers Blagojevich's actions very serious.

"It's not politics as usual. It's a crime. There are no gray areas here," he said.

The foreman said the jury was very thorough and went through the evidence on each of the 20 counts. In addition to trying to peddle the Senate seat, Blagojevich also was accused of trying to shake down Children's Memorial Hospital and holding a racetrack bill up in hopes of securing campaign donations.

One of the jurors, identified only as Juror 140, said the charges involving the Senate was the most clear and had the most evidence.

"We felt he was trying to make a trade for the Senate seat," she said.

The jurors said they accepted Blagojevich's testimony that he held up a tollway bill because he was trying to push a capital bill through the Legislature.

Blagojevich was convicted on 17 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy and was acquitted on one. The jury could not reach a verdict on two other counts. This was the second time Blagojevich faced trial on the charges. Last summer, he was convicted of lying to the FBI but the jury was hung on the other charges against him.

A subdued Blagojevich had little comment as he left court, saying only he was stunned and wanted to get home to his children.

On arriving at his North Side home, Blagojevich hugged well-wishers before entering and talking to his two daughters. He said he was sad, disappointed and shocked.

"Let the people know I fought real hard for them," Blagojevich said of his political career.

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