Rod Blagojevich should get 15 to 20 years: Prosecutors

Rod Blagojevich: In arguing for a sentence that would be one of the longest for corruption in Illinois' sordid political history, prosecutors said Blagojevich — convicted, among other things, of trying to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama — deserved more than two other figures now in prison.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP/File
In this July 15 photo, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich arrives at the Federal courthouse for a hearing in Chicago.

Rod Blagojevich deserves a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison on his multiple corruption convictions for misusing the power of his office "from the very moment he became governor," federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

His attorneys argued for leniency, calling Blagojevich "an intrinsically good, kind, and decent man."

Both sides filed motions Wednesday, and Judge James Zagel was expected to sentence the former Illinois governor next week.

In arguing for a sentence that would be one of the longest for corruption in Illinois' sordid political history, prosecutors said Blagojevich — convicted, among other things, of trying to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama — deserved more than two other figures now in prison.

Blagojevich's predecessor, former Gov. George Ryan, got 6 1/2 years on racketeering and fraud charges. And former Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko was sentenced last week to 10 1/2 years, minus time served, for fraud, money laundering and plotting to squeeze more than $7 million in kickbacks from companies seeking state business.

But Blagojevich's attorneys said federal sentencing guidelines would suggest a sentence of 41 to 51 months. They also offered several reasons for Zagel to issue a lesser sentence than their calculation of those guidelines.

Zagel is scheduled to sentence Blagojevich Dec. 6. He's not bound by federal sentencing guidelines or the recommendations of either side.

Prosecutors argued in their filing that Rezko got more than 10 years even though he was not an elected public official and offered some cooperation to investigators.

"Blagojevich engaged in extensive criminal conduct with and without Rezko, provided no cooperation, perjured himself for seven days on the witness stand, and has accepted no responsibility for his criminal conduct," prosecutors said.

And Blagojevich, who campaigned as a reformer, was "acutely aware of the damage" Ryan had created, prosecutors said.

"As the chief executive of the state, Blagojevich was in a special position of responsibility to the public," prosecutors said. "His abuse of office is particularly grave given the faith put in him by the citizens of Illinois."

But Blagojevich's attorneys argued that Rezko did deserve more prison time than the former governor because his crimes were greater and led to profit, while Blagojevich "made nothing."

During Rezko's trial, prosecutors said he raised more than $1 million for Blagojevich and got so much clout in return he could control two powerful state boards. They accused him of plotting to squeeze payoffs from money management firms that sought to invest the assets of the $40 billion state Teachers Retirement System and said he plotted to get a $1.5 million bribe from a contractor who sought state approval to build a hospital.

Others found guilty in the federal investigation also profited, Blagojevich's attorneys said.

"Blagojevich's convicted counts, on the other hand, involved discussion of beneficial legislative initiatives and a legally mandated role to make a Senate appointment and resulted in no harm," they said. "The legislative initiatives all passed and the people of Illinois got their senator."

Most legal experts had predicted Zagel would hand down a prison term of about 10 years. But Rezko's sentence, handed down by a different judge, may change Zagel's calculus.

"I think there's a good possibility that Mr. Blagojevich could get between 12 and 15 years," said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago who is now a defense attorney. "I don't think he's going to get 20, though."

Marcellus McRae, another former federal prosecutor who's now a Los Angeles attorney, said Rezko's sentence could become a useful comparison point for a judge looking to send a message against corruption.

"I think deterrence has got to be a significant part of this," McRae said. "How many times has the public had this issue of public integrity and abuse of trust in front of them?"

Blagojevich was convicted at his first trial of lying to the FBI, but jurors deadlocked on the other charges. At his second trial this summer, he was convicted on 17 of 20 counts.

Federal wiretap tapes played in court captured an increasingly isolated and unpopular governor speaking excitedly in late 2008 about his power to name someone to Obama's old Senate seat. Blagojevich famously called the seat "f------ golden" and resolved not to "give it up for ... nothing."

Prosecutors on Wednesday brought up other charges of misconduct, including attempted shakedowns of a children's hospital CEO and racetrack executives and demands that the Chicago Tribune fire editorial board members in exchange for help with the sale of Wrigley Field.

Blagojevich has said that despite what he said on the tapes, his conduct was not illegal. His attorneys on Wednesday renewed that argument. They said Blagojevich "intended to collect ideas and options and measure one against the other."

As recently as last week, his attorneys asked Zagel to allow more wiretap tapes to be played at his sentencing. Zagel denied the request. Several parts of Blagojevich's filing — including most of one section subtitled "Castles In The Air" — reference sealed wiretap recordings and are blacked out.

Blagojevich's attorneys mentioned his work as governor, his family and the struggle of a federal investigation as reasons for leniency. They said he was close to bankruptcy.

"He was and is a politician, which can cause him to be perceived as shallow and self-promoting," they said. "However, his track record as governor reveals a genuine commitment to initiatives that benefitted the middle and lower middle class."

Prosecutors preemptively attacked those arguments. They said Blagojevich should not be seen as a family man and governor who helped the state, but as a common criminal. The former governor "appears to be committed to his wife and daughters," prosecutors said, noting that defendants in other cases also often have families that suffer when they go to prison. And any good work he did as governor shouldn't mitigate the charges against him, prosecutors argued.

"Many criminals are productive members of society, holding down jobs that they ably accomplish when they are not otherwise engaged in criminal activity," they said.

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