- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) - A federal judge told ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday to forget about starring in a reality TV show in the Costa Rican jungle and focus instead on the corruption charges that could send him to prison for years.

“I don’t think this defendant fully understands and I don’t think he could understand … the position he finds himself in,” U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said in denying the impeached and indicted former governor permission to leave the country.

Blagojevich, 52, has pleaded not guilty to racketeering, fraud and other charges that allege he schemed to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat and plotted to use the muscle of the governor’s office to pressure companies for campaign money.

Blagojevich had hoped to make some money to support his family by heading to Costa Rica in June to be on NBC’s “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” _ a program similar to “Survivor” _ while attorneys in Chicago worked on his case.

But Zagel said his time would be better spent helping his lawyers cope with the mound of documentary evidence prosecutors will soon turn over to the defense.

Zagel said it’s often the case that “the defendant never understands … the jeopardy he is in” until he comes face to face with the evidence and so far Blagojevich has not experienced that.

After the hearing, Blagojevich insisted he’s “going to play a very big role” in his defense.

“I’m fully aware of what the allegations are and I know what the truth is concerning me and I know that I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong,” he said.

In another bleak moment for the defense, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar told the court he expects former Blagojevich chiefs of staff John Harris and Alonzo Monk to soon agree to plead guilty to related charges and testify for the prosecution if Blagojevich stands trial.

Schar also said Blagojevich could be looking at 25 to 30 years behind bars under advisory federal sentencing guidelines if he is convicted. Schar said there was no way to predict what Blagojevich might do if allowed to go south of the border.

Blagojevich stood silent at the hearing except to whisper occasionally to defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky but said afterward he would not have fled had he been allowed to go to Costa Rica.

“I have no intention of not going to court,” Blagojevich said.

“I’m approaching this case as a way to be able to show the people of Illinois just how honest I’ve been as governor and how much I’ve worked on their behalf,” he said before leaving the courthouse.

Sorosky told Zagel that NBC producers had volunteered to pay for retired marshals or FBI agents to make sure Blagojevich wouldn’t run away from the television show. But the judge said the point was that Blagojevich should stay to work on his case.

An attorney for Blagojevich’s brother, who also has pleaded not guilty in the case, said NBC had been contacted about possibly moving the show to the U.S. to comply with Blagojevich’s bond.

“What are they going to watch the show for, Costa Rica or him?” said defense attorney Michael Ettinger.

But NBC issued a statement saying that while the network is “disappointed in the court’s decision … There are no plans to move the show to a location in the United States.”

Zagel did say he might allow Blagojevich to tap his $2 million campaign fund to pay lawyers. So far, Sorosky, an old friend, is the former governor’s only lawyer of record and he has indicated more attorneys are needed to work on the case.

Zagel set a May 1 hearing on the campaign fund issue.


Associated Press Writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.

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