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News, June 2011
Former US Governor, Rod Blagojevich, Found Guilty of Corruption
A Chicago jury on Monday convicted former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on 17 charges, including trying to sell President Obama's vacant Senate seat. He is the second consecutive Illinois governor facing imprisonment for corruption.
By News Wires (text)
Date created : 27/06/2011
A jury convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Monday of nearly all the corruption charges against him, including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.
Blagojevich had faced 20 charges, including the Senate seat allegation and that he schemed to shake down executives for campaign donations. He was convicted on all charges regarding the Senate seat.
Jurors delivered their verdicts Monday after deliberating nine days. Blagojevich had testified for seven days, denying wrongdoing. Prosecutors said he lied and the proof was on FBI wiretaps. Those included a widely parodied clip in which Blagojevich calls the Senate opportunity “f------ golden.”
Blagojevich was arrested in December 2008, after the FBI had wiretapped hundreds of his telephone calls at work and home. The Illinois Legislature impeached him a month later.
Before a national audience, the Blagojevich saga exacerbated Illinois’ reputation for graft. The convictions mean Blagojevich is the second consecutive Illinois governor facing a prison sentence for corruption. His predecessor, former Gov. George Ryan, is serving a 6˝ year sentence.
The case also became a media spectacle, as the indicted governor and his wife appeared on TV reality shows, and as the loquacious Blagojevich made theatrical appearances daily outside the courthouse during the first trial to profess his innocence and hug his remaining fans.
Jurors in his first trial deadlocked on all but one charge, convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI. Blagojevich already faces up to five years for the lying conviction.
Blagojevich, 54, had arrived at the courthouse accompanied by his wife, Patti, and walked past the crowds that lined the street outside the building.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and dozens of reporters filed into the courtroom Monday after the court announced it had received word of a note from jurors.
“The jury has come to a decision on 18 of the 20 counts,” Zagel said, clutching the note and reading it aloud. Jurors added they were deadlocked on two counts and “were confident” they couldn’t agree on those charges “even with further deliberations.”
Both trials hinged on whether the former governor’s bold ramblings to aides and others on the telephone was just talk, as he insisted, or part of “a political crimespree,” in the words of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
In a case full of high-level name dropping, defense attorneys in the retrial pulled into court Chicago’s new Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Emanuel’s appearance on the witness stand, the most anticipated by a Chicago mayor in a federal courtroom in decades, was over in just five minutes. Jackson was done in about half an hour.
Overall, though, the retrial had far less of the circus-like atmosphere that accompanied the initial trial. Blagojevich himself also was more subdued this time.
Other major differences were in the prosecution’s dramatically streamlined case, and the fact that the defense put on a case after not doing so the first time around.
Prosecutors dropped racketeering counts against the ex-governor and dismissed all charges against his then co-defendant brother, Robert Blagojevich. They presented just three weeks of evidence _ half the time taken at the first trial. They called fewer witnesses, asked fewer questions and played shorter excerpts of FBI wiretaps that underpin most of the charges.
There was also a new variable at the retrial: The testimony from Blagojevich himself. At the first trial, the defense rested without calling any witnesses and Blagojevich didn’t testify despite vowing that he would.
Retrial jurors saw a deferential Blagojevich look them in the eyes and deny every allegation, telling them his talk on the recordings was mere brainstorming.
Jury convicts ex-Ill. Gov. Blagojevich at retrial
Jun 27, 2011, 9:41 PM EDT
By MICHAEL TARM and KAREN HAWKINS Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) --
Rod Blagojevich, who won two terms as Illinois governor before scandal made him a national punch line, was convicted Monday of a wide range of corruption charges, including trying to sell President Barack Obama's Senate seat.
The verdict, coming after his first trial ended last year with the jury deadlocked on most charges, was a bitter defeat for Blagojevich, who spent 2 1/2 years professing his innocence on reality TV shows and later on the witness stand. His defense team insisted that hours of FBI wiretap recordings were just the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud.
Blagojevich becomes the second straight Illinois governor convicted of corruption. His predecessor, George Ryan, is now serving 6 1/2 years in federal prison.
When sentenced later this year, Blagojevich is virtually certain to get a significant prison term that experts said could be 10 to 15 years.
After hearing the verdict, Blagojevich turned to defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky and asked "What happened?" His wife, Patti, slumped against her brother, then rushed into her husband's arms.
Before the decision was read, the couple looked flushed, and the former governor blew his wife a kiss across the courtroom, then stood expressionless, with his hands clasped tightly.
The verdict capped a long-running spectacle in which Blagojevich became famous for blurting on a recorded phone call that his ability to appoint Obama's successor to the Senate was "f---ing golden" and that he wouldn't let it go "for f---ing nothing."
The 54-year-old Democrat, who has been free on bond since shortly after his arrest, spoke only briefly with reporters as he left the courthouse, saying he was disappointed and stunned by the verdict.
"Well, among the many lessons I've learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less, so I'm going to keep my remarks kind of short," Blagojevich said, adding that the couple wanted "to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out." His two daughters are 8 and 14.
The case exploded into scandal when Blagojevich was awakened by federal agents on Dec. 9, 2008, at his Chicago home and was led away in handcuffs. Federal prosecutors had been investigating his administration for years, and some of his closest cronies had already been convicted.
Blagojevich was swiftly impeached and removed from office.
The verdict provided affirmation to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, one of the nation's most prominent prosecutors, who, after the governor's arrest, had condemned Blagojevich's dealings as a "political corruption crime spree."
On Monday, he said the key question for the jury was whether to accept the defense suggestion that Blagojevich's activities amounted to "the kind of political wheeling and dealing that is common in Illinois and around the country."
"That," said Fitzgerald, his voice rising, "couldn't be any further from the truth. ... Selling a Senate seat, shaking down a children's hospital and squeezing a person to give money before you sign a bill that benefits them is not a gray area. It's a crime."
Fitzgerald also addressed a question that has hung over the case ever since Blagojevich was arrested: Why did authorities not wait until the governor actually made a deal for the Senate seat? Doing so might have helped ensnare other conspirators.
A U.S. Senate seat "should not be put up for sale. You should not let the sale happen. ... Our job is to try to prevent crime, not just prosecute crime," he said.
Fitzgerald pledged to retry the governor after the first jury failed to reach a decision on all but the least serious of 24 charges against him.
On Monday, the jury voted to convict on 17 of 20 counts after deliberating nine days. Blagojevich also faces up to five additional years in prison for his previous conviction of lying to the FBI.
Blagojevich was acquitted of soliciting bribes in the alleged shakedown of a road-building executive. The jury deadlocked on two charges of attempted extortion related to that executive and funding for a school.
Judge James Zagel has barred Blagojevich from traveling outside the area without permission. A status hearing to discuss sentencing was set for Aug. 1.
The charges carry a possible sentence up to 300 years in prison, but federal guidelines mean he will serve only a fraction of that.
Judges have enormous discretion in sentencing and can factor in a host of variables, including whether a defendant took the stand and lied. Prosecutors have said that Blagojevich did just that.
Two legal experts speculated that Blagojevich would probably receive around 10 years in prison, with little chance that he would get more than 15.
Former prosecutor Jeff Cramer estimated that Blagojevich would get between six and 12 years. Another former assistant U.S. attorney, Phil Turner, guessed closer to six years.
All 12 jurors - 11 women and one man - spoke to reporters after the verdict, identifying themselves only by juror numbers. Their full names were to be released Tuesday.
Jurors said the evidence that Blagojevich tried to secure a high-paying, high-powered position in exchange for the appointment of Obama's successor in the Senate was the clearest in the case.
"There was so much more evidence to go on," said Juror No. 140. Jury members said they listened and re-listened to recordings of Blagojevich's phone conversations with aides. They also acknowledged finding the former governor likable.
"He was personable," Juror No. 103 said. "It made it hard to separate what we actively had to do as jurors."
Still, Juror No. 140 said she found Blagojevich's testimony over seven days at times "manipulative."
"Our verdict shows that we didn't believe it," she said.
The quiet Blagojevich who left the courthouse Monday was a sharp contrast with the combative politician who emerged after his arrest. Back then, he called federal prosecutors "cowards and liars" and challenged Fitzgerald to face him in court if he was "man enough."
Over the months that followed, he engaged in what many saw as embarrassing indignities for a former governor. He sent his wife to the jungle for a reality television show, "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here," where she had to eat a tarantula. He later showed his own ineptitude at simple office skills before being fired on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice."
For the second trial, prosecutors streamlined their case, and attorneys for the former governor put on a defense - highlighted by a chatty Blagojevich taking the witness stand for seven days to portray himself as a big talker but not a criminal.
Richard Kling, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law who watched much of the trial, said the defense had no choice but to put Blagojevich on the stand, even though doing so was risky.
"The problem was with some of his explanations," Kling said. "It reminded me of a little kid who gets his hand caught in a cookie jar. He says, `Mommy I wasn't taking the cookies. I was just trying to protect them and to count them.'"
Robert Grant, head of the FBI's Chicago office, said the agency's eavesdropping helped seal the verdict.
"A famous artist once said that lady justice is blind, but she has very sophisticated listening devices, and that was certainly the case in this matter," Grant said.
Blagojevich seemed to believe he could talk his way out of trouble from the witness stand. He sought to counteract the blunt, greedy man he appeared to be on FBI wiretaps and apologized to jurors for the four-letter words that peppered the recordings.
He said the wiretaps merely displayed his approach to decision-making: to invite a whirlwind of ideas - "good ones, bad ones, stupid ones" - then toss the ill-conceived ones out.
When a prosecutor read wiretap transcripts where Blagojevich seems to speak clearly of trading the Senate seat for a job, Blagojevich told jurors, "I see what I say here, but that's not what I meant."
Lead prosecutor Reid Schar started his questioning of Blagojevich with a quick verbal punch: "Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?"
After the judge overruled a flurry of defense objections, Blagojevich eventually answered: "Yes."
Associated Press Writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.
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