Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 06, 2011

Judge Didn’t Believe Blagojevich Testimony

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)



(Graphic by Elliott Ramos/IPR)

Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich acknowledged the former Illinois governor committed crimes, while pleading for leniency at a sentencing hearing on Tuesday. Their presentation included a taped phone call featuring Blagojevich's family, and letters written by his wife and daughter.

"His family deserves mercy," attorney Aaron Goldstein told federal Judge James Zagel. "They are not the ones that have to be responsible for these crimes."

But Zagel's rulings and comments during the all-day hearing indicate he's unlikely to spare Blagojevich from a lengthy prison sentence. A decision could come as early as Wednesday, after the prosecution and Blagojevich himself get a chance to address the judge.

In an early blow to the defense, Zagel sided with prosecutors in his calculation of federal sentencing guidelines at 30 years-to-life. But, like prosecutors, Zagel said he believes such a prison term to be too harsh.

A sentence that long, he said, is "simply not appropriate in the context of this case."

Zagel also said he believes the former governor lied on the stand during his corruption trial this summer. Blagojevich was convicted on a total of 17 federal counts in that trial, and one more during a trial the previous summer.

About ten jurors total from both trials were in court for Tuesday's hearing. The crowd also included Blagojevich's wife, Patti, accompanied by her siblings, Rich Mell and state Rep. Deb Mell.

A Sentencing Guideline Loss for Blagojevich

The hearing began shortly after 10 a.m. with a prosecutor and a lawyer for Blagojevich debating how to calculate federal sentencing guidelines, which Zagel can use in determining how much time the former governor will spend in prison.

Prosecutors had argued the guidelines are in the 30-to-life range, but they are asking for a 15-to-20 year sentence. Blagojevich's lawyers calculated the guidelines at roughly 3-to-4 years, though on Tuesday they asked for the "lowest sentence that the law allows."

Speaking first, defense attorney Carolyn Gurland said Blagojevich was not a "leader-organizer" of a conspiracy, and so should not receive a bump in prison time prosecutors have argued for.

Blagojevich, Gurland said, "sought advice" from his cadre of advisors, rather than "directed" them to assist. She also noted that the advisors routinely lied to Blagojevich and ignored his requests.

In addition, she said Blagojevich's "utter stagnation" on a potential deal with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan regarding a U.S. Senate appointment for Madigan's daughter, state Attorney General Lisa Madigan, proves the governor wasn't the leader that prosecutors are making him out to be.

In response, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar told Zagel that Blagojevich did make a decision on the Senate seat. Blagojevich wanted to appoint President Obama's confidante Valerie Jarrett, Schar contended, if he could receive a high-powered or lucrative job in return.

"He did decide," Schar said. "He just didn't get what he wanted."

Zagel sided with prosecutors, saying the argument that Blagojevich was being guided by others "is not consistent with what we heard on the [wiretap] recordings or in the testimony of the witnesses or - for that matter - what we heard from the defendant on the witness stand."

"There is no question that his tone of voice [on the recordings] was demanding," Zagel said. "He was not a supplicant."

The judge also agreed with prosecutors in determining the value of the bribes Blagojevich was seeking. Zagel opted to include in the calculation a potential $1.5-million campaign contribution from supporters of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., if Blagojevich appointed the congressman to the Senate.

This is the dollar amount in campaign contributions that Blagojevich stated on tape, his "recorded voice," as Zagel put it. "It was a price he put on it. A price he expected to receive."

Blagojevich's pursuit of benefits "wasn't successful," Zagel said. "But it was pretty relentless."

The judge ultimately agreed with prosecutors that a correct calculation of the sentencing guidelines puts Blagojevich in the range of 30 years-to-life. Nonetheless, Zagel said a sentence that long is "simply not appropriate in the context of this case."

"Came from Nothing"

After a break, the defense presented arguments, known as "mitigating factors," for a lenient sentence. Gurland said the 15-to-20 years the government was seeking is a "greater than necessary punishment," especially as Blagojevich pocketed "not a penny on the counts of conviction."

"Rod Blagojevich received nothing," Gurland said. "He asked for campaign contributions and appointments, not cash in envelopes."

Further, Gurland said, "It is not implausible that Mr. Blagojevich believed his actions complied with the law."

Moving from legal arguments to the defendant's biography, Gurland called her client a "kind and compassionate man." She described his upbringing by hard working parents.

At one point, Judge Zagel interrupted Gurland. He asked her about a statement Blagojevich apparently made in an interview with a federal probation officer, in which he said he "came from nothing."

"I don't understand it, this [kind of immigrant family story] is the backbone of America," Zagel said, noting the governor's parents raised two successful sons. "Why is this 'nothing'?"

Gurland replied that Blagojevich was likely referring to his parents' financial struggles, and meant no disrespect.

Earlier, the defense called to the stand a pediatrician, Dr. Deanna Monroe. Monroe testified that a state health insurance program started by Blagojevich, All-Kids, allowed children to get care whose families otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it.

Monroe also talked about the public health benefit of preventative care, including immunizations. And she said with high unemployment in recent years, "All-Kids has been a way for [people] to still cover their children."

The defense also played for the court recorded comments from an elderly woman who benefitted from a free transit benefit Blagojevich championed for senior citizens.

An 'Extraordinary' Father, and Potential Family 'Devastation'

Gurland went into detail of the "devastation that [Blagojevich's] absence would cause to his family."

The ex-governor always put his family first, she said. Gurland quoted a letter in which the principal at Blagojevich's daughters' school called her client a "loving and caring father." In another letter, Patti Blagojevich wrote that, "ironically," the kids are closer to their father today than they were before his arrest.

Zagel noted that similar family hardship arguments are often made during sentencing hearings before him, and asked Gurland how Blagojevich's situation was special. The lawyer replied that while she was preparing for this hearing, she witnessed how close the family was. "It is extraordinary."

To make this point further, Goldstein read a letter from the Blagojevich's oldest daughter, Amy, and played a phone call - caught on a government wiretap - of the entire Blagojevich family. It includes Patti reminding her husband to do the dishes.

This is "a very simple call that does show in real life terms the bond that is between Mr. Blagojevich and his family," Goldstein told the judge.

Speaking Out

Gurland sought to explain to the court Blagojevich's many and defiant public interviews following his arrest. She claimed that "even if Blagojevich had done and said nothing, the publicity wouldn't have gone away."

The ex-governor spoke up in his own defense, Gurland explained, so his family could "hold their heads up." And she said the most outrageous of public appearances, such as Patti's appearance on a reality show, were a financial necessity.

They were "paid handsomely to be made fun of and ridiculed," Gurland said, adding that the couple did not enjoy it.

What's Appropriate?

In their presentations, Goldstein and another Blagojevich lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, acknowledge the ex-governor committed crimes.

When Blagojevich sought a job in exchange for appointing Jarrett to the Senate, "we accept the fact that's a crime," Sorosky said, adding that the crime does not call for a 15-year sentence.

Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich acknowledged the former Illinois governor committed crimes, while pleading for leniency at a sentencing hearing on Tuesday. Their presentation included a taped phone call featuring Blagojevich's family, and letters written by his wife and daughter.

"His family deserves mercy," attorney Aaron Goldstein told federal Judge James Zagel. "They are not the ones that have to be responsible for these crimes."

But Zagel's rulings and comments during the all-day hearing indicate he's unlikely to spare Blagojevich from a lengthy prison sentence. A decision could come as early as Wednesday, after the prosecution and Blagojevich himself get a chance to address the judge.

Goldstein rattled off a long list of politicians and government employees convicted of crimes he described as "much worse" than Blagojevich's. That list included former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who received 6 1/2 years in prison. Ryan is still serving that sentence, at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Goldstein argued that a long sentence for Blagojevich would not deter public corruption, nor would a relatively short one encourage it.

"The amount of pain, humility and then punishment [received by Blagojevich] is plenty to deter...politicians [and] all law-abiding citizens," Goldstein said.

Zagel asked Goldstein if his client was asking for probation, as Goldstein had been quoted in news reports.

Goldstein said Blagojevich is asking only for the lowest sentence possible.

The judge said he's received letters from Blagojevich supporters asking for leniency, and others who requested the ex-governor get an extended period, perhaps ten years, of probation and community service.

Zagel said he dismissed such requests, noting such a sentence would "essentially impose a form of slavery on your client."

Just before 5 p.m. Tuesday, the defense wrapped up its presentation. Zagel said the hearing would resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The prosecution still must present its argument, and Blagojevich will also address the judge.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 06, 2011

Blagojevich Lawyer: Ex-Governor’s Actions Were Crimes

Rod Blagojevich's attorneys are admitting for the first time that the former Illinois governor is guilty of corruption.

But attorney Sheldon Sorosky argued Tuesday at Blagojevich's sentencing hearing that the prison term requested by prosecutors is too harsh.

Blagojevich had publicly maintained his innocence through two trials since his arrest three years ago. Sorosky told Judge James Zagel that it was illegal for the former governor to ask for a job for himself in exchange for his naming of a replacement for President Obama in the U.S. Senate.

He made the same argument when he talked about the other crimes for which the former governor was convicted.

But he said none of Blagojevich's actions merit the 15-to-20 year sentence recommended by prosecutors.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 06, 2011

Blagojevich Sentencing Hearing Underway

Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich appeared subdued as his sentencing hearing got under way in federal court in Chicago.

Blagojevich is sitting at a defense table in a dark pinstripe suit. Before the proceedings began, he stood, rubbed his hands nervously and occasionally bit his lip. His wife, Patti Blagojevich, sat behind her husband in the spectators' section. Her brother put his arm around her.

Neither of the Blagojevich's two daughters were in court Tuesday. Among the attendees are more than a dozen jurors from both trials.

Blagojevich is facing sentencing for his corruption convictions, including on charges that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 06, 2011

Blagojevich the Unknown Variable at Sentencing

Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich didn't say much as he left his Chicago home en route to his sentencing hearing in federal court Tuesday.

Blagojevich was greeted by a crowd of media when he walked out of his house Tuesday. Reporters shouted questions about the sentencing hearing, but the normally talkative Blagojevich didn't respond.

He did, however, comment when someone asked him about Chicago Cubs legend Ron Santo. Blagojevich indicated he was pleased that Santo had finally made it into the Hall of fame.

Blagojevich was convicted earlier this year on 18 corruption counts, including trying to auction off President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat.

Much of Tuesday's hearing will be a repeat of what attorneys have already argued in written motions filed with the court but there is one unknown variable: the governor himself.

Blagojevich will get a chance to address the court and former federal prosecutor Dave Weisman said Blagojevich should read a prepared statement and keep it short.

"If you haven't thought through and kind of critically analyzed what you're gonna say you tend to start to say things that hurt you like, 'I'm really not guilty,' which acceptance of responsibility is one of the things the judge should factor in and if he starts to go down that road that's gonna hurt him," said Weisman.

Last week Blagojevich's defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said the governor would not be reading from a prepared statement.

The impeached state executive-turned-reality TV star has good reason to feel anxious and afraid at the two-day hearing in Chicago. He faces the prospect of 10 or more years behind bars.

If Judge James Zagel settles on a sentence Wednesday of more than a decade, that would make it one of the stiffest penalties imposed for corruption in a state with a long history of crooked politics.

Prosecutors will ask Zagel to imprison the twice-elected governor for 15 to 20 years, arguing he has not only shirked all responsibility for his crimes but repeatedly thumbed his nose at the U.S. justice system.

Blagojevich has already paid a price in public ridicule and financial ruin, the defense argues in proposing a term of just a few years. They also seem bent on an approach judges often frown upon at the sentencing stage: Continuing to insist their client is innocent.

Both sides could finish their pitches to Zagel during Tuesday's hearing, which was moved to a large ceremonial courtroom to accommodate expected crowds. But Zagel says he'll wait until Wednesday to pronounce a sentence - possibly so he can sleep on it.

The 70-year-old judge, who played a judge in the 1989 movie "Music Box," must answer nuanced questions according to complex sentencing algebra, including whether any good Blagojevich accomplished as governor counterbalances the bad.

In describing the humiliation his family has faced, the defense cited Blagojevich's appearances on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice," where he struggled to use a cellphone, and his wife, Patti, eating a tarantula on the reality show, "I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!"

After sentencing, Zagel will likely give Blagojevich weeks before he must report to prison. Once there, the man heard scoffing on FBI wiretaps about earning a low six-figure salary would have to take a prison job - possibly scrubbing toilets - at just 12 cents an hour.

Blagojevich's sentencing comes just days before his 55th birthday and three years to the week of his Dec. 9, 2008, arrest.

The jury deadlocked in his first trial, agreeing on just one of 24 counts - that Blagojevich lied to the FBI. Jurors at his recent retrial convicted him on 17 of 20 counts, including bribery.

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 06, 2011

Champaign Residents Brainstorm Questions for Police Chief Candidates

A public forum is planned this week with the four candidates being considered to replace R.T. Finney, whose retirement as Champaign police chief becomes official in January. During a meeting Monday night at the Douglass Branch Library in Champaign, around 30 people participated in a discussion about issues that they felt the police chief candidates should address.

Champaign resident Artice James talked during the meeting about what it would take to make Champaign a safer community.

"The people need to be accountable for what happens in their community, and the police need to be accountable for their actions, and don't use for what they consider the blue code to protect the bad officers," James said.

Champaign resident Otis Noble III was there with his newborn son.

"You know, I always am encouraged by individuals getting a chance to kind of talk and get some of the things that they need off of their chests," Noble said. "So, in that vein, I believe there are some therapeutic qualities to what's happening this evening, but to be honest I think there's bigger steps to these conversations that I think are necessary."

The topic of police-community relations dominated discussions at the meeting. Some of the people who were there said police officers should be required to live within the city, while others touted a proposal to create a citizens police review board in the wake of the 2009 police shooting death of teenager, Kiwane Carrington and the recent arrests of two African American youth.

Comments from the meeting will be given to members of a subcommittee of the police chief search committee, who will come up with a final list of questions for the police chief candidates.

The finalists for the job will each address the public during a televised meeting Thursday at 7:00pm in the Champaign City Council chambers.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 05, 2011

FBI Finds No Criminal Civil Rights Violations in Arrest

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reviewed a June 5 arrest by Champaign police. The agency has concluded that no civil rights violations occurred.

The case involves a college-age African American male who was arrested for jaywalking and resisting arrest. Video from a squad car's dash board camera shows an officer pepper spraying and grabbing the young man by the neck.

The city asked for a federal investigation into the arrest after the Champaign Police Department and the Illinois State Police concluded that the arresting officer followed protocol. After studying the case, the F.B.I. said "from a federal civil rights perspective, this review did not reveal any federal criminal civil rights violations."

Champaign City officials say they intend to ask the city council to hire an independent firm to investigate the matter further.

"There will be an additional independent firm selected to complete a thorough investigation of the incident for the appeal of the citizen complaint," according to a statement released by the city.

Patricia Avery, who is the president of the Champaign County NAACP, said she felt that the FBI should have taken more time to review the case before reaching its conclusion.

"It is what it is according to them, but I think many people that have viewed that videotape will still be having questions in their mind as I do of how that decision was made in such a hurry," Avery said.

Meanwhile, a public forum is planned on Thursday evening at the city building with the four candidates being considered to replace R.T. Finney, whose retirement as police chief becomes official in January.

Watch the police footage from the June 5 arrest:


Story links:
















Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 05, 2011

Blagojevich Could Spend More Time in Prison than Other Ill. Governors

Former Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected to be sentenced this week, following a hearing in federal court that begins on Tuesday. Blagojevich was convicted on 17 corruption counts this past summer, and another one in 2010 - totaling a maximum prison sentence of 305 years.

The ex-governor's lawyers want Judge James Zagel to sentence him to no more than three to four years. The prosecution is asking for 15-20 years, pointing out that a Blagojevich co-conspirator who "held no elected office of trust," Tony Rezko, recently got a 101/2 year sentence. (Rezko's case was not handled by Zagel.)

Another reason the government gives for a long sentence: deterrence. "Sadly, Illinois has a history of corruption in government," the prosecution writes. "The sentences imposed on previous criminals for public corruption crimes were not sufficient to dissuade Blagojevich from engaging in a myriad of criminal acts."

Let's now review the sentences those "previous criminals" got. If the government gets its way, Blagojevich will spend far more time behind bars than any other member of the imprisoned governors' club.


George Ryan: Governor from 1999-2003, Illinois secretary of state from 1991 to 1999. Found guilty in 2006 on 18 federal counts regarding actions during time as secretary of state and as governor. Sentenced to 61/2 years, imprisoned from 2007 to present, with an estimated release date of July 4, 2013.

Otto Kerner: Governor from 1961-1968, federal appeals court judge from 1968 to 1974. Found guilty in 1973 on 17 federal counts regarding actions during time as governor. Sentenced to 3 years, but imprisoned for less than a year (from 1974 to 1975) because of poor health.

Dan Walker: Governor from 1973 to 1977. Pleaded guilty in 1987 to three federal counts regarding actions occurring after he left office. Initially sentenced to seven years, but released after a year and a half (from 1988 to 1989) because of health concerns.

Other Illinois Politicians

Dan Rostenkowski: Congressman from 1959 to 1995. Pleaded guilty in 1996 to two federal counts regarding actions during time in Congress. Sentenced to 17 months, imprisoned for 15 months, from 1996 to 1997.

Mel Reynolds: Congressman from 1993 to 1995. Found guilty in 1995 on state counts related to having sex with a minor. Sentenced to five years. Then found guilty in 1997 on 15 federal counts regarding actions during campaigns for Congress. Sentenced to six and a half years. President Clinton commuted his sentence in 2001.

Betty Loren Maltese: Cicero town president from 1993 to 2002. Found guilty in 2002 on six federal counts regarding actions during time as town president. Sentenced to eight years, imprisoned for seven years, from 2003 to 2010.

Jim Laski: Chicago city clerk from 1995 to 2006. Pleaded guilty in 2006 on one federal count regarding actions during time as alderman and city clerk. Sentenced to two years, imprisoned for less than a year, from 2007 to 2008.

Tom Keane: Alderman from 1945 to 1974. Found guilty in 1974 on 18 federal counts regarding actions during his time as alderman. Sentenced to five years, imprisoned for less than two years, from 1976 to 1978.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 03, 2011

Lawmakers Urge UI Board of Trustees to Keep Police Training Institute

Lawmakers from Central Illinois urged the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees on Friday to keep the police training institute open on the Urbana campus.

Last fall, a faculty panel suggested closing the institute to save $900,000 annually. It has been around for more than 55 years.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing is part of the state's Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, which has been looking to find sustainable funding for the U of I's Police Training Institute. She said the program should stay open.

"We understand the quality, and we don't want a short-term financial difficulty to halt a program that people really depend on and have really depended on as a standard for excellence in Illinois," Prussing said.

State Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) said he and other legislatures have put together a proposal to raise a fee on criminal convictions to help maintain the program.

"My goal is to not just have PTI remain in Champaign County," Rose said. "My goal is to have the best PTI in the world in Champaign County."

If the Police Training Institute does close, University of Illinois Police Chief Barbara O'Connor has said it would make more sense to have such a facility in a central location like Springfield rather than Macomb.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 02, 2011

Judge: Blagojevich Sentencing to Take 2 Days

A federal judge says it will take two days to sentence ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel says he expects Blagojevich's sentencing on 18 corruption-related counts to last through Tuesday and Wednesday.

Zagel told Blagojevich's attorneys Friday that they won't have to "cram everything in'' on Tuesday. Even if both sides finish their arguments in one day, Zagel says he'll likely have questions for them.

Prosecutors have asked Zagel to sentence Blagojevich to 15 to 20 years in prison. Attorneys for the 54-year-old impeached governor say a more reasonable sentence is between 3 1/2 years and more than 4 years. Blagojevich's attorneys also have presented the judge with reasons to issue a lesser sentence.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 02, 2011

Blagojevich Judge Explains Trial Decisions

Federal Judge James Zagel on Friday denied Rod Blagojevich's last ditch efforts to get his convictions thrown out. In what's become his trademark monotone voice that makes him sound perpetually bored, Zagel spent almost an hour explaining his decisions during the governor's two trials.

Blagojevich's defense attorneys had asked Zagel to throw out the convictions saying the judge was unfair to them and that he forced the governor to testify.

Zagel said Blagojevich was one vote away from being convicted on very serious charges in the first trial, and the hold out juror may have held an honest but mistaken view of political dealing. Zagel said based on that, Blagojevich made the decision to testify because he knew he had to explain disturbing passages on tapes where he sounded like an angry person with an obsessive concern for his personal welfare above all else. And Zagel noted that because of the testimony, several jurors found Blagojevich to be a likable person.

Zagel also said he used a neutral tone when admonishing Blagojevich who often gave long answers that included lots of irrelevent facts about U.S. history. Blagojevich spent seven days on the stand testifying.

Zagel noted that he did raise his voice once when Blagojevich started talking about his cousin who had died at Children's Memorial Hospital. Zagel said he only raised his voice because he had already warned Blagojevich not to discuss that issue. Blagojevich brought up his cousin, ostensibly to explain that he had a long and close relationship with Children's Memorial Hospital and would never try to extort them for campaign contributions, as he was accused of doing. At Friday's hearing, Zagel pointed out that it would be strange for Blagojevich to feel inclined toward the hospital that failed to save the life of his cousin. Zagel said he though Blagojevich was just trying to win the sympathy of the jury.

Blagojevich's sentencing hearing will start Tuesday. Attorneys for both sides said they expected the hearing to wrap up in one day, but Zagel said he's not going to hand down his decision before Wednesday.

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