Rod Blagojevich sentenced to 14 years in jail for trying to sell Obama's seat

 

Washington

For the first time yesterday, Rod Blagojevich displayed contrition. But too late. The brash, boyish-looking former governor of Illinois was sentenced to 14 years in jail for a raft of corruption offences including an attempt to sell the Senate seat vacated by president-elect Barack Obama.

The penultimate act of a case which often played out as a garish public spectacle came a few days before his 55th birthday on Saturday - and almost exactly three years after his dawn arrest on December 9, 2008, when the startled governor asked an FBI agent, "Is this a joke?" The final act will come within the next 90 days, when Mr Blagojevich must report to federal prison to begin his jail term.

Even in a state where corruption in high places has almost become the norm, the sight of its chief executive being taken away in handcuffs was a shock. Though it took two trials for him to be convicted (the first ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict on all but one of the 24 counts) Mr Blagojevich was finally found guilty in June on 17 of 20 charges of bribery, extortion and influence peddling.

Pleading humiliation and financial ruin, his lawyers had asked only for a short sentence. But yesterday the judge showed scant sympathy with those arguments, handing down a sentence only slightly less than the 15 to 20 years sought by the prosecution.

Mr Blagojevich, a Democrat first elected in 2002 thus becomes the second successive governor to go to jail, following his Republican predecessor George Ryan, who is currently serving a 6-1/2 year sentence, again for corruption. In the past four decades, no less than four Illinois governors have ended up behind bars, prompting jokes about a 'governors' wing at the state prison of Joliet.

At the end of the inconclusive first trial, Mr Blagojevich boasted of having been exonerated. Yesterday however he admitted that he made "terrible mistakes," and had broken the law when he tried to sell Mr Obama's seat.

"My life is ruined," he told the judge. "My political career is over, I can't be a lawyer anymore, we can't afford the home we live in, we're trying to sell it. I realise that the things I thought were permissible, the jury has made abundantly clear, were not." But neither that show of remorse, nor emotional pleas from his wife and two young children for mercy, were enough to sway the judge.

According to prosecutors, Mr Blagojevich abused the powers of his office "from the very moment he became governor," despite having been elected on a platform of cleaning up Illinois politics after the federal investigations that led to the prosecution and conviction of Ryan. During his trial, they maintained, "he perjured himself for seven days on the witness stand, and has accepted no responsibility for his criminal conduct."

The crucial evidence was provided by FBI wiretaps. In one of them, Mr Blagojevich can be heard bragging that his chance to name someone to Mr Obama's seat was "f***ing golden," and that he wouldn't let it go "for f***ing nothing."

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