“His behavior and conduct once he was charged was almost a template for what you don’t want a defendant to do,” said Joel Levin, a former federal prosecutor. “… He did everything possible to alienate the prosecutors and the judge and, ultimately, it came back to hurt him.”
It took two trials for prosecutors to snare Blagojevich. His first ended deadlocked with jurors agreeing on just one of 24 counts — that Blagojevich lied to the FBI. Jurors at his retrial convicted him on 17 of 20 counts, including bribery and attempted extortion.
On Wednesday, Blagojevich licked his lips nervously as he stepped up to address the judge — mouthing the words, “I love you,” to his wife as he passed her on a spectators’ bench. Leaning into a hefty oak podium, tightly gripping its sides, the often fast-talking Blagojevich spoke slowly, sometimes pausing and searching for the right word.
“My life is ruined,” he told Zagel. Accentuating each of the next seven words, he added, “I have nobody to blame but myself.”
He offered more than half a dozen apologies to, among others, his former colleagues and to his former constituents across Illinois. But he stopped, seemingly to gather his composure, when he said that he also owed an apology to his family — including his two daughters, 15-year-old Amy and Annie, 8.
“I have ruined their innocence,” he said quietly.
Sitting just a few feet to Blagojevich’s left were the three federal prosecutors who devoted more than three years to his case. In his remarks, Blagojevich also apologized to them for itching to spar with them verbally, sometimes through the media.
On his way out of the courthouse, Blagojevich cited author Rudyard Kipling and said it was a time to be strong, to fight through adversity and be strong for his children. He said he and wife were heading home to speak to their daughters, and then left without answering any questions.
Before sentencing, Blagojevich’s attorneys had proposed a term of just a few years, saying he has already paid a price in public ridicule and financial ruin. They presented heartfelt appeals from Blagojevich’s family, including letters from his wife and one of his two daughters that pleaded for mercy.
But the judge made it clear early in the hearing that he believed Blagojevich had lied on the witness stand when he tried to explain his scheming for the Senate seat, and that he did not believe defense suggestions that the former governor was duped by his advisers.
“The governor was not marched along this criminal path by his staff,” Zagel said. “He marched them.”
Going into the sentencing, many legal experts said the governor was likely to get around 10 years. A former Blagojevich fundraiser, Tony Rezko, recently was sentenced to 10 1/2 years, minus time served.
Prosecutors have said Blagojevich misused the power of his office “from the very moment he became governor.” He was initially elected in 2002 on a platform of cleaning up Illinois politics in the midst of federal investigations that led to the prosecution and conviction of Ryan.
Blagojevich, who turns 55 Saturday, was ordered to begin serving his sentence on Feb. 16. In white-collar cases, convicted felons are usually given at least a few weeks to report to prison while federal authorities select a suitable facility. Blagojevich is expected to appeal his conviction, but it is unlikely to affect when he reports to prison.