Jury convicts ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich at retrial
CHICAGO (AP) - Rod Blagojevich, who rode his talkative everyman image to two terms as Illinois governor before scandal made him a national punch line, was convicted Monday of a wide range of corruption charges, including the incendiary allegation that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's Senate seat.
The verdict was a bitter defeat for Blagojevich, who had spent 2½ years professing his innocence on reality TV shows and later on the witness stand. His defense team had insisted that hours of FBI wiretap recordings were just the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud.
He faces up to 300 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines are sure to significantly reduce his time behind bars.
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 decision 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 former governor 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."
Blagojevich, who has been free on bond since shortly after his arrest, becomes the second straight Illinois governor convicted of corruption. His predecessor, George Ryan, is now serving 6½ years in federal prison.
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.
"The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said before a bank of television cameras after the arrest.
Blagojevich, who was also accused of shaking down businessmen for campaign contributions, was swiftly impeached and removed from office.
The verdict provided affirmation to Fitzgerald, one of the nation's most prominent prosecutors, who had condemned Blagojevich's dealings as a "political crime spree." Mentioned at times as a possible future FBI director, Fitzgerald pledged to retry the governor after the first jury deadlocked on all but the least serious of 24 charges against him.
This time, the 12 jurors voted to convict the 54-year-old Blagojevich on 17 of 20 counts after deliberating nine days. He 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 for sentencing was set for Aug. 1.
Federal guidelines and previous sentences meted out to other corrupt Illinois politicians suggest Blagojevich could get around 10 years in prison. But judges have enormous discretion 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.
After his arrest, Blagojevich called federal prosecutors "cowards and liars" and challenged Fitzgerald to face him in court if he was "man enough."
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."
To most Illinois residents, he was a reminder of the corruption that has plagued the state for decades.