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Rod Blagojevich, second Illinois governor headed for prison (+video)

Rod Blagojevich got on a flight for Colorado Thursday morning. By this afternoon, Blagojevich will trade his Oxxford suit for prison khakis

By Michael TarmAssociated Press / March 15, 2012

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich departs his Chicago home Thursday to begin his 14-year prison sentence on corruption charges. The Democrat becomes the second Illinois governor in a row to go to prison for corruption.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Chicago

Convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich left his home early Thursday morning and hopped in a car, the first leg of a trip that will end with him behind bars in a federal prison in Colorado, and the latest chapter in the stunning downfall of one of the most charismatic political figures in Illinois' history.

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Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich leaves his home in Chicago for prison in Colorado.

Blagojevich, wearing a dark shirt, sport coat and jeans, had trouble making his way through a crowd of photographers, reporters and well-wishers shortly after 6 a.m. His wife, Patti, who has appeared with Blagojevich so many times outside the same Chicago home, proclaimed his innocence and who stood crying next to him on Wednesday night, did not accompany him to the car. Nor did his two daughters, who presumably minutes earlier said their goodbyes before heading to a prison where he will spend at least a dozen years.

"Saying goodbye is the hardest thing I've ever had to do," he said. "I'm leaving with a heavy heart, a clear conscience and I have high, high hopes for the future," A newspaper delivery man handed Blagojevich a paper that he offered to the crowd before climbing into a car to take him to O'Hare International Airport for a flight to Colorado. Then, just as he disappeared into the car, he turned to reporter and said, "I'll see you when I see you."

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As they have throughout his three-year legal ordeal, supporters were outside the former governor's house yelling encouragement. "We'll be praying for you, we'll take care of your family," some shouted.

About 40 minutes later, Blagojevich, his sport coat off, could be seen going through security at O'Hare International Airport, where he raised his arms as he went through the imaging machine. Just as he was surrounded by cameras at his house, a crowd of travelers at the airport snapped his photograph as he made his way to the gate. His flight was scheduled to take off later in the morning.

When Blagojevich walks into prison Thursday — the state's second former governor in federal prison, joining George Ryan, who was also convicted of corruption charges — he will undergo a full-body strip search and hand over his personal belongings, save for his wedding ring. The man with a taste for fine Oxxford-label suits will be given khaki prison garb and boots.

Then, he will become Inmate No. 40892-424.

The one-time golden boy of Illinois politics with a penchant for television cameras is expected to report to a Colorado prison by 2 p.m. to begin his 14-year prison term on corruption charges, marking the state's second governor in a row to be sent to prison for corruption.

Jurors convicted Blagojevich on 18 counts, including charges that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat. FBI wiretaps revealed a fouled-mouth Blagojevich describing the opportunity to exchange an appointment to the seat for campaign cash or a top job as "f------ golden."

The famously talkative Democrat embraced the public spotlight one last time Wednesday evening, seeming to relish the attention of reporters' microphones and hovering television helicopters as he expressed faith he would successfully appeal his convictions. The one-time reality show contestant claimed he always believed what he did while governor was legal.

"While my faith in things has sometimes been challenged, I still believe this is America, this is a country that is governed by the rule of law, that the truth ultimately will prevail," Blagojevich told the crowd outside his Chicago home. "As bad as it is, (this) is the beginning of another part of a long and hard journey that will only get worse before it gets better, but ... this is not over."

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