Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 07, 2011

Public Meetings Scheduled for Urbana Dis 116 Sub-District Map Plans

Residents of the Urbana school district can find out more about two proposals for a new school board sub-district map, before the board takes a final vote.

District 116 is holding three public presentations on the two proposals Thursday evening.

The Urbana School Board showed its preference for one of the maps at its meeting Tuesday night. Board President John Dimit said that the 4-to-2 straw poll vote picked a map that puts as much of the Historic East Urbana neighborhood into one sub-district as possible.

School Board President John Dimit said that a straw poll vote taken last (Tuesday) night favored a map that redraws Subdistrict Seven in southeast Urbana, so that it includes less of the Historic East Urbana Neighborhood, just east of downtown.

"Right now, (Sub)district Seven actually goes up clear up into the Historic East Urbana Neighborhood," Dimit said. "And that neighborhood is split into three subdistricts. And so there is some concern; that kind of looks like an appendage to the rest of the district. And we're trying to reduce that as much as possible, and also try to make it so the Historic East Urbana Neighborhood, the majority of it, has a single representative."

Dimit voted with the majority in the straw poll, but he says feedback from Thursday's public meetings could change some minds --- or persuade the school board to make minor revisions to the map that they approve.

The public presentations will be held Thursday, Dec. 8 at 5:30 PM at Yankee Ridge School, at 6:30 at Urbana Middle School and 7:30 at King School. The final vote on the sub-district map is scheduled for the Tuesday, December 13th Urbana School Board meeting. The Urbana School District is one of the few in Illinois that elects board members from sub-districts, instead of at-large.

Categories: Education, Politics


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 07, 2011

Ill GOP Chair Reacts to Blagojevich Sentencing

The head of the Illinois Republican Party says he hopes that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's 14-year prison sentence leads to reform and "fiscal sanity'' in Illinois.

GOP chairman Pat Brady says the former Democratic governor and those around him continued to burden Illinois citizens with financial mismanagement.

Brady says the sentence ends the "Blagojevich saga.'' A federal judge sentenced Blagojevich on Wednesday for corruption that included trying to sell or trade an appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

It's one of the stiffest penalties for corruption in a state with a history of crooked politics.

Blagojevich apologized for his crimes and asked the judge for mercy earlier Wednesday.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 07, 2011

Blagojevich Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison

A federal judge has sentenced Rod Blagojevich to 14 years for corruption that included trying to sell or trade an appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

It's one of the stiffest penalties for corruption in a state with a history of crooked politics. Blagojevich apologized for his crimes and asked for mercy in addressing the judge earlier Wednesday.

His attorneys had said the sentence of 15 to 20 years prosecutors wanted was too harsh.

He is the second successive Illinois governor sentenced for corruption. His Republican predecessor, George Ryan, is serving a 6 1/2 year term.

UPDATE: The federal judge who sentenced Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in prison said the former Illinois governor eroded public trust in government and the good he did didn't mitigate his crimes. U.S. District Judge James Zagel sentenced Blagojevich on Wednesday after listening to the 54-year-old Democrat make a last-ditch plea for mercy.

Zagel says Blagojevich did some good things for people as governor but that he's more concerned that the former governor wanted to use his powers for himself.

Zagel says Blagojevich's crimes were especially harmful because of the position he held. Zagel said: "When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 07, 2011

Day Two of Blagojevich Sentencing Underway, Former Governor Addresses Court

Prosecutors are beginning their final argument to a judge they hope will impose a stiff prison sentence on former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich by disputing the argument that Blagojevich's actions never hurt anyone.

Prosecutor Reid Schar says Blagojevich held up funding to every hospital in the state for 30 days and held up an appointment to the Senate seat while crucial votes were being taken. Schar says what Blagojevich did "eroded'' public confidence in government.

Blagojevich is expected to address the judge before learning his punishment for corruption convictions that include trying to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.

Blagojevich's attorneys admitted for the first time Tuesday that he's guilty of corruption, but said the sentence of 15 to 20 years prosecutors want is too harsh.

UPDATE: Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has made his final plea for leniency to the judge who will impose his sentence, saying he "never set out to break the law.''

While he apologized for his crimes, Blagojevich said he did not know he was breaking the law. He told Judge James Zagel that he thought what he was doing was "permissible,'' but that he was mistaken.

Blagojevich said he acknowledges his crimes and is "unbelievably sorry.'' He says he's made "terrible mistakes.'' The impeached Illinois governor spoke Wednesday as he waits to learn his punishment on charges that include trying to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 07, 2011

Champaign’s Motor Fuel Tax Vote Delayed

Tuesday night's absence of three Champaign City Council members has prompted a 2-month delay in the vote for a local motor fuel tax.

The 4-cent per gallon item was up for a possible vote, but council members Paul Faraci, Deb Frank Feinen, and Michael La Due weren't at the meeting. The holiday schedule, and Mayor Don Gerard's absence in January means the vote won't come until the city council's first meeting in February. The tax proposal would be used to pay for road projects.

Council member Tom Bruno says he's heard debate on both sides, but would like to hear more about the merits of the plan rather than knee-jerk reactions. Bruno says one reason infrastructure has suffered is that tax revenues are down dramatically from where they were a few years ago.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 07, 2011

Khan’s Bid to Buy Jaguars Clears First Step

Khan's Bid to Buy Jaguars Clears First Step

The NFL's Finance Committee has voted unanimously to recommend Urbana businessman Shahid Khan's bid to buy the Jacksonville Jaguars to the full ownership committee for a vote next week.

Categories: Business, Education, Sports


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.


Page 529 of 836 pages ‹ First  < 527 528 529 530 531 >  Last ›