Former governor convicted of trying to sell Obama's Senate seat

Click to follow
The Independent US

Rod Blagojevich yesterday became the fourth Illinois governor in just half a century to be convicted of committing a crime, when he was found guilty on a host of corruption charges, including an attempt to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he became President.

The verdict handed down by a federal court in Chicago brings down the curtain on an extraordinarily garish political career. The case hinged on FBI wiretaps of the profane and populist governor in which he demanded bribes for favours, most notoriously over Mr Obama's former seat, which had to be filled by an appointee named by the governor.

That right, Mr Blagojevich was caught saying in one call played to the court during his trial, was "golden" and that he wouldn't let it go "for nothing". Wiretap after wiretap seemed to show a governor bent only on turning his office into a source of money.

Arrested in December 2008 and removed from the governorship by impeachment the following month, Mr Blagojevich was convicted at a first trial on just one count, with the jury deadlocked on the rest. The outcome of the retrial, however, was unequivocal: conviction on 17 of 20 counts.

Shocked into something close to silence by the verdict, Mr Blagojevich asked his attorney: "What happened?" As he left the court, he told reporters he was going home to "talk to our little girls and explain things to them and then try to sort things out".

Realistically, his message to his daughters, aged 7 and 13, will be bleak. A sentencing date has yet to be set, but the former governor, who is 54, faces up to 300 years in jail for crimes ranging from mail fraud to extortion and soliciting bribes. His punishment will certainly be less, but Mr Blagojevich may have to spend much of the rest of his life behind bars.

If so it will be an ignominious end to a political career in the state that also gave America arguably its greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. First elected in 2002, Mr Blagojevich won a second term in 2006. But two years later he could claim the unofficial title of "America's most unpopular governor", with only 4 per cent of Illinois voters approving of his job performance.

After being impeached, he demeaned his former office further, sending his wife to the jungle for reality TV show I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. So poor were his managerial skills that he found himself fired on Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice.

Mr Blagojevich's conduct "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave", federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said when the former governor was first arrested in 2008. Such has been the track record of recent Illinois chief executives that some have joked of a special "governors' wing" at the state prison at Joliet, near Chicago.