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Rod Blagojevich a substance abuser? He seeks treatment in prison.

Ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, ordered to report to US prison Feb. 16, seeks to enter a prison substance abuse program. It can shave a year off his time behind bars, but does he really have an abuse problem?

By Staff writer / December 15, 2011

In this Dec. 7 photo, Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich looks back at the crowd as he returns home with his wife Patti in Chicago after he was sentenced by Judge James Zagel to 14 years in prison for his convictions on 18 corruption counts.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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Chicago

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has asked a federal court for permission to enter a substance abuse program when he begins to serve his prison sentence for corruption early next year. If his request is granted, the program will likely shave a year off the time Mr. Blagojevich will spend behind bars.

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Blagojevich received a 14-year sentence this month after his second federal trial, in which he was convicted of charges that he tried to profit from his power to appoint the US Senate seat being vacated by Barack Obama. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Blagojevich is likely to serve about 12 years; the substance abuse program would reduce that time to 11 years.

US District Judge James Zagel agreed to recommend to the US Bureau of Prisons that Blagojevich enter the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program. Inmates need to produce a documented history of substance abuse, and about five drinks a week may make someone eligible, says Chris Burke, a Bureau of Prisons spokesman.

Blagojevich’s life has been an open book since his arrest in December 2008. The ex-governor has maneuvered to tell his story via a book deal and his numerous radio and television appearances, and snippets of FBI wiretap recordings of his political dealings have been aired almost nonstop for almost three years. 

But none of that material hinted that Blagojevich struggles with drug or alcohol abuse. As a result, some Chicagoans suspect he is trying to game the system for a reduced sentence.

“It wasn’t mentioned during the first trial, it wasn’t mentioned during the second trial at all, even when he testified. So I think that you have to look at that a little skeptically,” former assistant US Attorney Jeff Cramer told a Chicago ABC affiliate this week.

Still, getting into the federal program is “not easy,” according to former US prosecutor Marcellus McRae, now in private practice in Los Angeles.

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