Former governor Rod Blagojevich made a renewed plea for freedom Monday, arguing through his lawyers for a reduction of his 14 year sentence for extortion and bribery. But the government urged Judge James Zagel to keep Blagojevich’s sentence intact.
In his strongest statement of remorse to date, Blagojevich conceded that he was not blameless in his fundraising efforts, that he “regrets his conduct, which was distasteful or worse and showed extremely poor judgment."
In a sentencing memorandum filed just before a midnight deadline, Blagojevich’s attorney Leonard Goodman declared that his client’s pursuit of a challenge to his conviction, “does not in any way lessen the remorse that he feels for his behavior.” But the former governor asked that his sentence be reduced to five years, noting that he never collected any fraudulent monies, and that he had spent his time behind bars “improving himself as a person, through hard work, while also being of service to other inmates.”
Blagojevich has been imprisoned for just over four years. Currently serving a 168-month (14-year) sentence at the Federal Penitentiary in Englewood, Colorado, the former governor is to be re-sentenced Aug. 9, after the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned five of the 18 counts on which he was convicted.
While he could face a reduction in sentence, in tossing those counts, the Appeals Court also rather pointedly noted that “it is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich’s crimes.”
But Blagojevich’s attorneys urged Zagel to look at Blagojevich’s behavior and experience since he reported to the Colorado prison, attaching the letters of more than 100 fellow inmates, “describing how the former Governor’s optimism, faith, and generosity have enriched their lives, and inspired them to be better husbands, fathers, friends, and citizens.”
And the Blagojevich filing once again insisted that he never sought bribes, but rather campaign donations “which he would have used to advance his political agenda.”
“Clearly, the elected official convicted of breaking the law in order to achieve political goals is far less culpable than the one convicted of selling his office for personal enrichment,” the memorandum states. “During his two terms as Governor, he raised tens of millions of dollars, none of which was used for personal enrichment.”
For the first time, Blagojevich seems to concede that he had at least partially bought into a scheme to accept $1.5 million in campaign donations from fundraiser Raghu Nayak, who had offered the money in exchange for appointing then-Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. to the vacant Barack Obama Senate seat.
“Approaching Nayak for campaign donations after learning of Nayak’s illegal offer was certainly a lapse in judgment,” the memo states. But Blagojevich’s lawyers go on to argue that the pursuit of such an offer was no different than a Presidential candidate dangling a potential ambassadorship in exchange for “support.”
“This is precisely the message that would have been delivered to Nayak,” they wrote. “He merely sought to encourage Nayak to donate campaign funds in the hope that his candidate might receive the appointment.”
“Yes, the Senate seat had value to Blagojevich,” the memo states. “But its value was political, not personal.”
In arguing against a reduction in Blagojevich’s sentence, prosecutors noted that “the defendant remains convicted of the same three charged shakedowns of which he stood convicted at the original sentencing: the Senate seat shakedown, the racetrack shakedown, and the hospital shakedown.”
“The defendant acted corruptly, repeatedly, and in utter disregard of the trust Illinois voters had placed in him,” attorney Julie Burnham Porter wrote. “The dismissal of five of the 18 counts in no way detracts from that fact.”
Among the letters submitted on the former Governor’s behalf, one inmate noted that he and other prisoners called Blagojevich “the Gov”, that he had been “a nice man, always polite and respectful.”
“I will always remember the joke he made when he got a math question wrong,” the inmate wrote. “Well, you guys should take note of this and be encouraged. If I could be Governor, some of you guys could be President.”
Others said Blagojevich "treats everyone with the patience and dignity they deserve" and that he gives "comfort and advice on how to cope with adversity and still maintain those family ties."
“He never snubs anyone and is very humble," one inmate wrote. "I believe he would be an upstanding citizen and doing much more for our society out there than in this prison."
Another letter notes that Blagojevich and another inmate, “Ernie B.”, had formed a band called the “Jailhouse Rockers” which performed nearly two dozen songs for a 2013 GED graduation ceremony, and again on the 4th of July. But the group was forced to break up.
Ernie B. was released.