Rod Blagojevich broke his silence from prison last year, vowing he “must fight on” and “what is at stake is nothing less than the rule of law.”
Late Monday night, federal prosecutors threw those words back in the former governor’s face as he nears a key turning point in the battle for his freedom. They wrote in a court filing that Blagojevich’s comments “demonstrate a complete lack of acceptance of responsibility.”
“In the absence of acceptance, it cannot be said that the defendant has been rehabilitated or that he is deserving of leniency,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Riggs Bonamici wrote.
Prosecutors want U.S. District Judge James Zagel to reinstate Blagojevich’s original 14-year prison sentence at a hearing next month, scheduled after an appeals court tossed five of the former governor’s 18 criminal convictions last year and ordered his resentencing.
Blagojevich’s lawyers are hoping instead for a five-year prison sentence, which could quickly spring the former politician, who has already spent more than four years in a Colorado prison. And in a memo filed late Monday, they said they expect prosecutors will change their minds after reading several letters written by fellow inmates describing Blagojevich as a model prisoner.
Appellate attorney Leonard Goodman also insisted that the charges tossed by the appellate court “were the centerpiece of the Government’s case and were the only charges brought against Blagojevich that contained allegations that he sought a personal benefit.”
“The Government simply refuses to acknowledge that, unlike every other elected official prosecuted for political corruption, Blagojevich never took a cash bribe; he never accepted a gift from a political patron, such as an expensive watch or a car or a free vacation; and he never took money from his campaign fund to spend on himself or his family,” Goodman wrote.
Blagojevich’s legal team filed 141 pages of supportive letters this month, mostly from fellow inmates who have come to know Blagojevich as “The Gov.” They described him as a humble and thoughtful prisoner who spends his time in prison reading, running and exercising at the gym.
“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 in a memo to the judge earlier this month. “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 nearly a third of Blagojevich’s convictions. 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, and that would seem to suggest that Blagojevich is due a sentence reduction.
However, 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 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.”