Federal prosecutors want former Gov. Rod Blagojevich sentenced to 14 years in prison all over again.
But Blagojevich hopes the federal judge who originally hammered him with that 14-year sentence will reconsider and give him as little as five years behind bars.
Blagojevich has already been locked up for four years in a Colorado prison. Next month, his battle to overturn his conviction could land him back in front of U.S. District Judge James Zagel for re-sentencing, after years of cries that Blagojevich was dealt too severe a punishment. The feds stood by the sentence in a sentencing memo filed just before midnight Monday, though.
“Corruption spreads unless it is deterred,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Riggs Bonamici wrote in the memo. “Public officials who gain from corrupt deals are incentivized to do more, and successes inspire other public officials to see if they can do it too.”
Meanwhile, Blagojevich’s lawyers made an appeal for mercy and opened a window into Blagojevich’s four years behind bars. They said the former governor worked in the kitchen warehouse, taught Civil War and World War II history and studied music as a way to connect to his daughter Annie, who studied classical piano. Lawyer Leonard Goodman wrote that Blagojevich formed a band with another inmate called “The Jailhouse Rockers” that broke up when the other inmate was released.
“Blagojevich’s number one priority during his four plus years of incarceration has been to repair and mitigate the harm that his actions have done to his wife and children,” Goodman wrote. “Blagojevich speaks to his family nearly every evening.”
Blagojevich’s Aug. 9 re-sentencing hearing could mark the former governor’s first public appearance since he surrendered to the federal facility in March 2012. Last time around, prosecutors asked Zagel to send Blagojevich to prison for 15 to 20 years. Instead, Zagel handed Blagojevich a 14-year prison term.
Then the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year tossed five of Blagojevich’s 18 criminal convictions — nearly a third. And prosecutors opted not to re-try the imprisoned Democrat on the five vacated counts related to Blagojevich’s attempted sale of a U.S. Senate seat.
That would seem to suggest, on the surface, that Blagojevich is due a sentence reduction when he returns to Zagel’s courtroom. But the three-judge appellate panel also found “it is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich’s crimes.”
The bottom-line sentencing guidelines that Zagel will rely upon were not affected by the loss of Blagojevich’s five overturned convictions, the appellate court found. And many of the counts for which Zagel handed down simultaneous 14-year sentences still stand. Additionally, the appellate court found that “any error” in the sentencing guideline calculations in 2011 “went in Blagojevich’s favor.”
For example, Zagel gave Blagojevich credit for accepting responsibility, “even though he pleaded not guilty, denied culpability at two lengthy trials, and even now contends that the evidence is insufficient on every count and that he should have been acquitted across the board. That’s the antithesis of accepting responsibility.”
Zagel gave Blagojevich that break after the former governor told the judge in 2011 that, “I’m here convicted of crimes. The jury decided that I was guilty and I am accepting of it, I acknowledge it, and I, of course, am unbelievably sorry for it.”
The appellate court also said Zagel did not consider the full $1.5 million Blagojevich sought from supporters of then-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in exchange for Jackson’s appointment to the Senate seat about to be vacated by then-President-elect Barack Obama.
Goodman, Blagojevich’s appellate attorney, said last year that the appellate ruling was “not justice,” and he said he would advise the former governor to “fight on.” Indeed, Blagojevich sought a re-hearing at the appellate level and even petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court unsuccessfully before Zagel scheduled the new sentencing hearing.
Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, has since indicated her husband will try to appeal his new sentence directly to the high court after the hearing in August.
“This was, of course, not the outcome that Rod, our daughters Amy and Annie, had hoped and prayed for,” Patti Blagojevich said in a statement in March. “But we continue to have faith in the system and an unshakable love for Rod. We long for the day that he will be back home with us.”
As for the notoriously loud-mouthed ex-governor, he has been mostly quiet since he reported to prison in 2012. But he released a written statement last summer through his publicists.
“There is nothing I desire more than to return home to my wife and two young daughters,” Blagojevich said. “I cherish them more than anything in the world. I wish this was over. But I must fight on. What is at stake is nothing less than the rule of law.”