Ex-Ill Gov. Blagojevich Faces Lengthy Prison Sentence

A federal jury in Chicago convicted former Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich on 17 wide-ranging corruption charges Monday. Bagojevich was accused, among other things, of trying to sell President Obama's former Senate seat for personal gain.

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And I'm Renee Montagne.

For Illinois politicians, the governor's office must seem like the pinnacle of a career. But for some, it turned out to be a way station on the way to prison. Rod Blagojevich is the latest Illinois governor to be convicted of corruption charges.

INSKEEP: A jury found him guilty on 17 of 20 counts, including allegations that he tried to sell President Obama's former U.S. Senate seat for personal gain.

NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER: For much of the past two and a half years, ever since FBI agents arrested him at his home in the pre-dawn of a cold December morning, Rod Blagojevich has been proclaiming his innocence to anyone who will listen. In this, his second trial on political corruption charges, he took the stand in his own defense, telling the jury face to face that he did nothing wrong. But in the end, the jurors did not believe Blagojevich and they convicted their impeached former governor of corruption. And afterwards, Blagojevich, who couldn't seem to stop talking on late-night TV and reality shows, had very little to say.

Mr. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Former Illinois Governor): Patty and I, obviously, are very disappointed in the outcome. I, frankly, am stunned. There's not much left to say other than we want to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them, and then try to sort things out.

SCHAPER: After deliberating over 10 days, the jury convicted Blagojevich on 17 of the 20 counts he faced, including charges of wire fraud, bribery, attempted extortion and conspiracy. The conviction comes just 10 months after Blagojevich's first trial ended in a hung jury.

Prosecutors streamlined their case this time around, dropping three of the more complex charges. So the verdict is a vindication of sorts for Chicago's U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald.

Mr. PATRICK FITZGERALD (U.S. Attorney): A jury sent a loud and clear message that Governor Blagojevich committed very serious crimes: shaking down a children's hospital, trying to sell a Senate seat, and demanding cash campaign contributions in advance before signing a bill.

SCHAPER: Blagojevich is convicted of trying to extort a hefty campaign contribution from the CEO of a children's hospital, and threatening to delay state funding for the hospital until he got it. He's convicted of threatening to withhold his signature on horse racing legislation, to try to get a race track owner to give him tens of thousands in campaign cash. And he's convicted of trying to sell or trade his power to appoint a U.S. senator for a more lucrative job, or millions in campaign donations. All of the schemes were recorded by FBI wiretaps and played for the jury.

Mr. ROBERT GRANT (FBI): A famous artist once said that Lady Justice is blind, but she has very sophisticated listening devices. And that was certainly the case in this matter.

SCHAPER: Robert Grant heads up the Chicago office of the FBI.

Mr. GRANT: Governor Blagojevich was caught in unguarded moments expressing his true desire, which was to personally profit from public service.

(Soundbite of FBI recording)

Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: I've got this thing and it's (bleep) golden. And I'm just not giving it up for (bleep) nothing.

SCHAPER: The jury agreed it was Blagojevich's own words, in his own voice, on those undercover recordings that did him in.

Juror Number 140: The Senate seat was the most clear.

SCHAPER: The court is withholding the jurors' names until later today. This is juror number 140, who adds that Blagojevich's own testimony didn't help.

Juror Number 140: I honestly thought at times, it was manipulative.

SCHAPER: Blagojevich testified he didn't really mean some of what jurors heard him say; that what they heard was just talk and legal political horse-trading, and he was really interested in cutting the best deal he could for the people of Illinois.

Again, juror number 140.

Juror Number 140: I think our verdict shows that we did not believe that.

SCHAPER: Blagojevich becomes the second consecutive former Illinois governor convicted of corruption, as the Democrat's predecessor, Republican George Ryan, is still serving time in a federal prison today.

Criminal defense attorney Richard Kling, who teaches at Chicago-Kent College of Law, calls it a sad verdict.

Professor RICHARD KLING (Chicago-Kent Law School): I'm sad for politics in Illinois. It's one more blot on Illinois. Now, we're once again a laughingstock with, I think, the fourth or fifth governor who is locked up - two of them, potentially, at the same time.

SCHAPER: The next move for Blagojevich's attorneys will be to file for a mistrial. If that doesn't succeed, they'll likely appeal the verdict. Experts say at sentencing, Blagojevich could face anywhere from five to 15 years in federal prison.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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