Illinois Public Media News
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.
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)
A CU-CitizenAccess report about nursing homes in Champaign County tells how homes accepting Medicare and Medicaid funding were rated by the federal government. Many of the homes did poorly in the ratings, and an official with one of those facilities said the federal rating system was flawed. An advocate for nursing home residents, Tami Wacker, said the rating system is a useful tool when trying to choose a nursing home, but it's not perfect. Wacker said there is a lot more to consider when looking for the right facility. Wacker is Operations Manager and a Regional Ombudsman with the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging. The Bloomington-based agency serves seniors and persons caring for them in a 16-county area. Wacker spoke with Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows.
(Photo by Darrell Hoemann)
An ordinance requiring the shoveling of snow from sidewalks is now on the books in Urbana.
The City Council Monday night passed the measure as a pilot project. The initial plan applies to downtown, Campustown, and part of the Philo Road Business District, specifically, Philo from Florida Avenue to Windsor Road.
Urbana will give property owners 24 hours' notice after two inches of snowfall, and a notice from public works when streets have been plowed. That's less time than Champaign, which provides 48 hours' notice, plus a warning for an additional day for those that don't comply.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says 24 hours was the recommendation of the city's neighborhood safety task force.
"It's a dangerous situation if we have people pushing baby carriages, and we have people walking in the street," she said. "We're trying to make things safe for pedestrians as well as drivers."
If property owners miss the 24 hour deadline, the city would hire a contractor and bill the property owner.
Alderman Charlie Smyth had suggested the ordinance reflect Champaign's, which provides 48 hours' notice. But he understands criticisms that it's too lax a measure.
"I'm just a little concerned that it is different, and making sure that people can coordinate with the private snow removal crews," said Smyth. "(They) work across both cities. So they're going to have to coordinate their schedules and figure that out. I think this complicates things a little bit."
When the council revisits the ordinance in May, Smyth admits there's a lot yet to figure out, including the cost of hauling snow in neighborhoods where there's nowhere left to store it. Mayor Prussing also hopes a volunteer shoveling effort starts in other neighborhoods.
Alderwoman Heather Stevenson cast the lone vote against the ordinance, saying city-owned sidewalks shouldn't be the responsibility of businesses and homeowners.
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.
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:
The struggling U.S. Postal Service says it's moving forward with plans to slash its budget by $3 billion by closing more than 250 mail processing centers around the nation, including nine in Illinois.
The cuts announced Monday would slow first-class mail service, ending next-day deliveries of stamped letters.
The list of processing centers to be closed released earlier this year includes facilities in Bloomington, Effingham, Carbondale, Centralia, Chicago, Fox Valley, Quincy, Rockford, and Springfield.
But the fight to save the centers is far from over. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo says the plan makes no sense and Manzullo is demanding the postal service produce data that justify the move. The plan calls for closing a center in Rockford and moving its operations to Madison, Wis.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Ron Santo was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Monday, chosen by the Golden Era committee almost a year after the Chicago Cubs third baseman died hoping for the honor.
Santo drew 15 votes from the 16-member panel. It took 75 percent - 12 votes - to get chosen.
Santo was a nine-time All-Star, hit 342 home runs and won five Gold Gloves. He was a Cubs broadcaster for two decades, eagerly rooting for his favorite team on the air.
Santo received 15 votes from the 16-member panel. Twelve votes are need to make it into the Hall of Fame. Other baseball greats considered included Jim Kaat who received 10 votes, and Gil Hodges and Minnie Minoso who each had nine votes. Minoso went on to play for the Chicago White Sox, and he was the first African-American to wear a major league baseball uniform in Chicago.
Santo joined former Cubs teammates Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins in the Hall. That famed quartet did most everything at Wrigley Field through the 1960s except reach the World Series.
His longtime teammate, Billy Williams, was among the Hall of Famers on the committee. Williams said Santo's contributions to the community played a role in the decision.
"The numbers are there. Everybody saw the numbers, the Gold Gloves, and I think they looked at it with a different view," Williams said.
Santo will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 22, along with any players elected by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Jan. 9. Bernie Williams joins Jack Morris, Barry Larkin and others on that ballot.
Santo never came close to election during his 15 times on the BBWAA ballot, peaking at 43 percent - far short of the needed 75 percent in his last year of eligibility in 1998.
Santo's wife, Vicki, said the honor will carry on his legacy, but she said it's a disappointment Santo wasn't inducted before he died last year.
"When his number was retired at Wrigley Field and he stood in front of 40,000 people and said this is my hall of fame, he truly meant that," she said. "I always believed he was meant to be in the Hall of Fame, but obviously not during his life time."
A star while playing with diabetes, a disease that eventually cost him both legs below the knees, Santo died last December from complications of bladder cancer at age 70.
Santo had come close in previous elections by the Veterans Committee. The panel has been revamped several times in the last decade, aimed at giving a better chance to deserving candidates.
U.S. Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are pushing for stronger sanctions against Iran. A bill unanimously passed the Senate last week aimed at shutting down the central bank of Iran.
Kirk said sanctions will help deny Iran the resources it needs for nuclear weapons and send a message about its poor track record on human rights.
"And my hope is that between sanctions and working with the dissident community we can bring about a new policy there," Kirk said.
Kirk is defending members of the Baha'i Faith who are being imprisoned in Iran and denied education.
"The Iranians are not only proliferating nuclear weapons and backing up Syria's Assad dictatorship, they're oppressing 330,000 Baha'is in their country - forcing them all out of university, denying any government contract with any Baha'i business," Kirk said.
Durbin said he thinks earlier sanctions the U.S. has placed on Iran are already working.
"I think it's having some impact," Durbin said. "When the Iranian government turned loose the demonstrators on the British embassy this week, it was a signal to me that our sanctions are starting to be felt in Tehran and around that country."
On Tuesday, Iranian protesters stormed the U.K. embassy compounds in Tehran. In retaliation, Britain has ordered Iranian diplomats off its soil, pulled its diplomats out of Iran, and backed new sanctions on the Islamic republic.
The U.S. sanctions amendment still needs approval from a joint legislative conference made up of House and Senate members.
(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
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.
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