Rod Blagojevich’s sentencing started off with a surprise admission from his legal team that acknowledged the disgraced Illinois governor had engaged in corruption — which was followed by a lengthy apology in which Blagojevich claimed he didn’t realize that he was doing anything wrong. The strategy apparently impressed the judge only enough to reduce the potential sentence from 20 years, but still slammed Blagojevich with a 14-year sentence:
Disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced Wednesday to 14 years in prison after making a final plea for leniency, acknowledging his guilt and saying, “I am unbelievably sorry.”
“I believe he did, in fact, accept [responsibility],” U.S. District Judge James Zagel said in announcing how long Blagojevich should spend in prison after being convicted of 18 corruption charges that included attempting to sell or trade an appointment to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the election of President Barack Obama.
Blagojevich’s lawyers wanted a 3 1/2-year sentence, at which Zagel scoffed:
Referring to comments from Blagojevich’s lawyers in asking for a sentence of no more than 3½ years, Zagel said: “I don’t doubt his devotion to children, but this is not … exceptional, in my own experience. I see case after case where good fathers are bad citizens. There is no question that the innocent children of felons suffer. This is tragic, but, as he admits, the fault of this lies with the defendant alone. Now, it is too late.
“If it is any consolation to his children, he does not stand convicted of being a bad father.”
Earlier, Blagojevich tried to explain that he didn’t know what he was doing was against the law — even after his lawyers admitted to corruption in their argument:
Nearly three years to the day since Blagojevich’s arrest while still in office, the first day of the sentencing hearing Tuesday featured an admission by Blagojevich’s attorneys that he was, in fact, guilty of public corruption. For years, the former governor and his team had strenuously avoided acknowledging that.
The defense admission of guilt came as something of a surprise — just days after defense filings declared Blagojevich’s innocence. …
“I’m here convicted of crimes … ,” Blagojevich said, “and I am accepting of it, I acknowledge it and I of course am unbelievably sorry for it.”
While he apologized in the 19-minute speech that he delivered without paper in front of him, Blagojevich still said he did not know he was breaking the law. He told Zagel that he thought what he was doing was “permissible,” but that he was mistaken, and he “never set out to break the law.”
“I caused it all, I’m not blaming anybody. I was the governor and I should have known better, and I am just so incredibly sorry.”
Perhaps he should have checked the law more closely before, er, shaking down a children’s hospital for political support, and for trying to sell off a Senate seat to the highest bidder. In the rest of the country, everyone already knows that those actions are illegal, of course, but in Illinois it might be easy to get confused. A few of Blagojevich’s predecessors have been just as confused on where politics ends and corruption begins, or at least they’ve claimed to be during sentencing hearings just like this one.
Zagel decided on an appropriate sentence. Violations of public trust should result in harsh punishment, as a lesson for those who follow, and for those who remain.