Blagojevich's 14-year prison term remains; wife lashes out at judge

  • Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks to reporters outside his home in Chicago as his wife, Patti, wipes away tears on March 14, 2012, a day before he was to report to a prison after his conviction on corruption charges.

    Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks to reporters outside his home in Chicago as his wife, Patti, wipes away tears on March 14, 2012, a day before he was to report to a prison after his conviction on corruption charges. Associated Press

  • Patti Blagojevich, left, wife of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks at the federal courthouse Tuesday in Chicago after U.S. District Judge James Zagel resentenced Blagojevich's to his original 14-year term.

    Patti Blagojevich, left, wife of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks at the federal courthouse Tuesday in Chicago after U.S. District Judge James Zagel resentenced Blagojevich's to his original 14-year term. Associated Press

  • In this courtroom sketch, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, right, appears via video from a Colorado prison during his re-sentencing in a federal courtroom in Chicago. At right is U.S. District Judge James Zagel and at center is Blagojevich's attorney Leonard Goodman.

    In this courtroom sketch, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, right, appears via video from a Colorado prison during his re-sentencing in a federal courtroom in Chicago. At right is U.S. District Judge James Zagel and at center is Blagojevich's attorney Leonard Goodman. AP Photo/Tom Gianni

 
 
Updated 8/10/2016 5:53 AM

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's hopes to have his 14-year federal sentence reduced were dashed Tuesday despite his daughters' tearful pleas for the family to be reunited.

Blagojevich inflicted "significant damage" on the state and contributed to the erosion of public trust in government, U.S. District Judge James Zagel said in upholding the sentence he imposed in 2011 after Blagojevich's conviction on political corruption charges.

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Blagojevich, who has served 4 years, is expected to be released in 2024 after serving 85 percent of his sentence.

Wife Patti Blagojevich and daughters Annie, 13, and Amy, 20, pleaded for Blagojevich to be allowed to come home from federal prison in Littleton, Colorado.

"I almost don't want to grow up because I want to wait for him to come home," Annie Blagojevich told the judge.

Amy Blagojevich told the court it's been difficult to remain close with her father. She said it's hard to talk with him about private things because strangers are always listening. "My dad used to be my best friend," she said, and, "He's never given up on us and we will never give up on him."

After the hearing, Patti Blagojevich lashed out at the judge and what she claimed was his "unwillingness to bestow even the smallest amount of mercy." She said her daughters' testimony made no difference to Zagel, who "clearly made up his mind before they started."

Blagojevich, with his thick hair now white and wearing prison-issued clothing, spoke in a video feed from prison.

In this courtroom sketch, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appears via video from a Colorado prison during his resentencing in a federal courtroom in Chicago.
In this courtroom sketch, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appears via video from a Colorado prison during his resentencing in a federal courtroom in Chicago. - AP Photo/Tom Gianni
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He said he regrets "mistakes and misjudgements" he'd made in the past. He appeared to wipe away tears after hearing his daughters testify.

"I recognize it's my words and actions that led me here," he said. "I wish I could turn the clock back."

Zagel disagreed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Bonamici's claim that Blagojevich "has not taken the first necessary step in rehabilitation: true acceptance of responsibility for the harm he has caused."

Zagel said he believes Blagojevich has taken responsibility for his actions, but that didn't diminish the serious nature of his offenses.

A jury in 2011 convicted Blagojevich of 18 corruption counts, including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. Jurors also convicted Blagojevich of wire fraud, extortion conspiracy and conspiracy to solicit a bribe related to pay-to-play schemes involving the Senate seat, suburban racetracks and Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and Edward Hospital in Naperville.

"The fabric of Illinois is torn, disfigured and not easily repaired. ... Trust among its citizens is diminished," Zagel said, reiterating his comments from Blagojevich's 2011 sentencing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Zagel also referenced a federal appeals court panel that last year dismissed five of Blagojevich's 18 convictions. The panel described Blagojevich's claims of innocence as "frivolous," the evidence of his guilt "overwhelming" and suggested the original sentence was not necessarily out of line even with some of the counts removed.

Rejecting defense attorney claims that their client solicited campaign contributions not to enrich or benefit himself but to advance his political agenda for the benefit of Illinois residents, Zagel rebuffed their arguments for a reduction to a five-year sentence.

About 100 inmates wrote letters supporting the former governor, who has taught history, tutored and provided interview coaching for prisoners whose release is pending. In her own letter to Zagel, Patti Blagojevich pleaded for mercy from the judge.

Patti Blagojevich, left, wife of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, her daughters Annie, center, and Amy listen to their attorney speaking at the federal courthouse Tuesday in Chicago after U.S. District Judge James Zagel resentenced Blagojevich's to his original 14-year term.
Patti Blagojevich, left, wife of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, her daughters Annie, center, and Amy listen to their attorney speaking at the federal courthouse Tuesday in Chicago after U.S. District Judge James Zagel resentenced Blagojevich's to his original 14-year term. - Associated Press

"Please let Rod come home and be the father that our daughters need and deserve. ... I am pleading with you, indeed begging you, to please be merciful," she wrote.

"Amy will never graduate high school again, or go to prom, or have her first day of college," she wrote. "Without Rod here, events that should be joyful celebrations are just cruel reminders of his absence, with an undercurrent of sadness at every school play, piano recital or ice-skating competition."

While he expressed sympathy for Blagojevich's family, Zagel pointed out that all prisoners "have innocent family members made to suffer the consequences of the defendant's crime."

A lawyer for Blagojevich said he may again appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Leonard Goodman said the decision of whether to appeal will be up to Blagojevich, adding, "I don't see why he wouldn't."

The high court refused to consider Blagojevich's corruption conviction earlier this year. At the time, one argument prosecutors made against the appeal being heard was that resentencing and other legal steps needed to play out.

Blagojevich's brother Robert Blagojevich said the former Illinois governor "deserves a break." He said his brother "admitted culpability and responsibility. How much can you squeeze out of a turnip? I don't know."

Both brothers were once indicted in the federal investigation. Jurors deadlocked on charges against Robert Blagojevich, a businessman. Robert Blagojevich called it "grossly unfair" when Rod Blagojevich was initially given the 14-year sentence in 2011. Robert Blagojevich went on to write a book about the case called "Fundraiser A."

Republican presidential contender Donald Trump referenced Blagojevich's rejected appeal while speaking on the campaign trail Tuesday.

"I see this guy Blagojevich," Trump said, pronouncing the former governor's name "Bla-GO-ye-vick," "and I know him because he was on 'The Apprentice,' right?" He lamented, "The guy's in jail for 14 years" while Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton faced no criminal charges in the scandal over her email while she was secretary of state.

• The Associated Press and FedNet contributed to this report.

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