Blagojevich GUILTY: Jury Convicts Rod Blagojevich On 17 Of 20 Counts
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."
Rod Blagojevich spoke briefly to reporters camped out at his Ravenswood home Tuesday morning, telling them he hopes his daughters will learn how to deal with "tough times" from his legal ordeal.
"A lot of what life is is how you deal with adversities," Blagojevich said, according to the Tribune. "It's a true test of who you are and it's an example to your children on how you deal with the tough times."
"And so, one of the things that motivates me and had motivated me and continues to motivate me -- and Patti -- is to try to show our kids that, as tough as things can get sometimes and as unfair as you think things might be, you just keep doing the best you can in dealing with the adversity."
The Chicago Tribune spoke to former town president of Cicero, Betty Loren-Maltese, who said prison is a humiliating experience that Rod Blagojevich is not ready for.
"Most people have a fixed opinion of politicians," Loren-Maltese told the paper. "A lot of prisoners feel (politicians) might even be responsible for them being in prison. I don't think it'll be easy for him, but it'll definitely change his attitude and make him realize he's not the king."
Other previously convicted Illinois politicians seem to agree:
"He was the Big Kahuna, a guy spoiled by government like a lot of us were," said James Laski, the former Chicago city clerk who did a year at a federal lockup. "He's going to go to prison and be a number. … They don't really give a damn that he used to be the governor or was on 'Celebrity Apprentice.'"
Read more here.
Jurors among those who convicted Rod Blagojevich of corruption Monday said they found the former Illinois governor personable, but had to set that aside to consider what they found to be clear evidence that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's Senate seat.
Read more here.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald tells reporters they needed to step in before the Senate seat was sold, and not watch it happen.
Read more about Fitzgerald's reaction here.
Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who lost the governor's race to Blagojevich in 2006, issued the following statement Monday:
"I am heartened by the Jury's verdict against Rod Blagojevich, and pleased to see justice after many months of waiting. But make no mistake: this is nothing to celebrate. Through his unconscionable behavior and reckless leadership, Blagojevich inflicted damage on Illinois that will take years, if not generations, to repair. He broke the public trust and mismanaged dollars with a zeal that was unique even in our storied state.
"I find his behavior reprehensible and am personally pleased to see him held responsible. But more important, I hope that today's verdict delivers a reminder that elected leaders serve the public, not the other way around - and they will be held accountable, even if it takes a while."
"While I look forward to turning the page on Blagojevich, I hope that the lessons learned from his prosecution live on. Ironically, it would prove to be his greatest contribution to our state."
Rod Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, arrived home moments ago. Crowds of reporters and supporters gathered on the scene and helicopters hovered above. He told reporters he and his wife plan on discussing the verdict with their daughters.
“One of the lessons that I’ve learned from this whole experience is try to speak a little bit less so I’m going to keep my remarks kind of short. ... Patti and I are obviously very disappointed in the outcome. I frankly, am stunned. There’s not much more to say other than that we want to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out. And I’m sure we’ll be seeing you guys again.”
"Patti Blagojevich nearly fell into the arms of her brother, who held her up during the verdict. She shook her head, looking stunned and shocked."
WATCH reporter Carol Marin explain the courtroom reaction here:
View more videos at: http://www.nbcchicago.com.
“I'm glad that the verdict is finally in on Rod Blagojevich. However this closes only one chapter of Democrat corruption in Illinois. Illinois Democratic politicians who now try everything they can to hide their past support of Rod Blagojevich should look themselves in the mirror and remind themselves that little has changed since the day Blagojevich was arrested.
“Our current governor (Pat Quinn) has appointed lame duck legislators to high paid positions after they changed their views and voted for late night tax hikes. The Speaker of the Illinois House (and state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Madigan) is partner in a law firm that has reaped millions in appealing tax assessments in a relationship that even Forrest Claypool (now a member of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Administration) said ‘has caused our taxes to go up and the level of faith in government to go down.’”State Sen. John O. Jones (R-Mt. Vernon)
"These convictions, along with the previous one, validate and clearly support the impeachment process that lawmakers carried out over two years ago. I can speak from personal experience that Governor Blagojevich only acted on what mattered to Blagojevich. A Chicago Tribune columnist once reported that Blagojevich ignored and even used an obscenity to describe a letter sent from my office to aid a constituent,” Jones said. “I have said this before, but hopefully this is beginning of the end of the Blagojevich saga. I do have sympathy for the Blagojevich children because of their father’s actions in the national media.”Republican State Sen. Christine Radogno “It was clear that Rod Blagojevich conspired to use the Governor's office for personal gain. He inflicted real, permanent damage on the state during his six years in office. Unfortunately, future generations will be paying for his Administration for years to come.
“I am as anxious as everyone to now put this sordid chapter in our state’s history behind us. But some will want to use this verdict to close the door on reform. (MORE HERE)
A statement from U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) :
“Rod Blagojevich never seemed to understand the difference between serving the public and serving his personal self interests. The evidence presented and verdict confirms that he was found guilty of seventeen of the twenty counts including wire fraud, extortion and attempting to sell President Obama's old Senate seat, but far worse, he abused and shattered public trust. The shame and national embarrassment Blagojevich cast onto our state has only created further financial bearing.
"I applaud the U.S. Attorney’s office for their hard work, dedication and effort to see to it that justice has somewhat been served. Unfortunately, Blagojevich's verdict and punishment will not restore statewide, much less nationwide certainty in Illinois. We must now move beyond Rod Blagojevich and turn our focus toward working together to rebuild Illinois.”
|@ WBEZ : The jury returned no verdicts on two counts pertaining to attempted extortion #Blagojevich|
The big issue for many was whether Blagojevich actually tried to sell President Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. The jury found him guilty on ALL counts related to the attempted sale.
"If my math is right, Blagojevich is eligible for a maximum 350 years sentence for this trial. Plus another 5 from first trial." - Roe Conn
|@ WBBMNewsradio : #BLAGOJEVICH: Federal Court is opening up extra overflow space for spectators and the news media. Verdict expected anytime.|
The jury went to lunch 30 minutes ago, so the verdict will probably be read around 2 p.m. CT.
On law school: "I like to say I applied [to Harvard] on a Monday and got rejected on a Tuesday, but not literally, because I'm under oath." ... "I can't say I came out of law school knowing much about law."
On basketball: "When I was governor, I think I was the only governor in the United States who could spin a basketball on all five fingers of his right hand. At least I had that going for me."
On his favorite Elvis song: "I'll tell you what it isn't, it isn't Jailhouse Rock!"
As of noon, a dozens reporters and half a dozen camera crews were camped out at Blagojevich's home in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. It was not known if he was inside.
NBC Chicago has a rundown of the 20 counts Blagojevich was charged with this time around.