Robert Blagojevich is among the few who can say it: He fought the law and the law lost.
The brother of Illinois’ imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is a free man after federal prosecutors, whose conviction rate hovers around 95 percent, failed to win a conviction against him in 2010. Facing a hung jury and a daunting retrial of the ex-governor, prosecutors dropped their case against Robert.
Five years later, the Nashville, Tennessee, resident is out with a book about his legal ordeal, “Fundraiser A, My Fight for Freedom and Justice” (Northern Illinois University Press), saying his writings reflect what he considers a David and Goliath story — and his ability to beat the odds with the deck stacked against him.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Robert Blagojevich remains audibly rattled by his legal travails from years earlier. He expresses continued frustration over the fact that his brother is still behind bars, serving out a 14-year sentence, and former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has never been charged in the case. Rod Blagojevich’s case still awaits an appellate decision 15 months after arguments were made before the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The former governor was convicted of attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s then-U.S. Senate seat to Jackson for $1.5 million. According to Robert Blagojevich, two of Jesse Jackson Jr.’s supporters in separate instances approached him with an offer of money for Jackson’s appointment. The first offer was at $1.5 million, the second was $6 million. Robert Blagojevich said he rebuffed both and did not take them seriously. Still, he said he doesn’t understand a system of justice that went after the alleged seller and not the buyer.
“To me, justice has not been served because Jesse Jackson Jr. is still a free man on those counts, on that act,” Robert Blagojevich said.
Jackson was questioned by the FBI in the case but ultimately not charged. The Sun-Times has previously reported that a Jackson donor, Raghuveer Nayak, had told authorities that Jackson asked him in 2008 to approach Rod Blagojevich with an offer of campaign money in exchange for a Senate seat appointment.
Jackson has repeatedly denied the allegations and was not charged in the case. He and his wife, Sandi Jackson, were later charged with stealing $750,000 from his congressional campaign fund and using it to purchase lavish items, including a Rolex watch, home furnishings, vacations, furs and memorabilia. Sandi Jackson will soon serve her one-year sentence.
“People who look at the disparities of the sentences can logically conclude when a man who steals $750,000 from his constituents and gets two years in prison, and when my brother, who never took a cent and never had — not around me — criminal intent, it’s absolutely egregious, it’s wrong,” Robert Blagojevich said. “I’m hoping that the appellate process is going to give my brother some justice.”
Robert Blagojevich has long been vocal about his belief that Jackson escaped justice, even testifying before an ethics panel in Washington, D.C., before Jackson was charged in federal court out east.
Robert Blagojevich credits his federal attorney, Michael Ettinger, with beating the odds in court.
It was Ettinger, he said, who gave him an idea.
“There’s no one who has gone up against the DOJ and has been tried who has been able to walk away with their freedom,” he said Ettinger told him. “ ‘So Rob, why don’t you write a book?’”
Robert Blagojevich describes a strained relationship with his brother, who wouldn’t allow him to visit in prison even when Robert was on-site. He also wouldn’t respond to written letters.
“I’ve not spoken to him, I’ve not seen him. I’ve tried. . . . I am hopeful with the passage of time, we will be reunited as brothers. I love my brother,” Robert Blagojevich said. “I don’t know. He and I — our last conversation — left some issues unresolved that were not addressed. The chess move was his to make and it didn’t happen.”
Robert Blagojevich’s book is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and will be available at local bookstores April 15.