Final Pleas for Blagojevich Sentence

As Rod Blagojevich approaches next week's sentencing date with judicial destiny, his lawyers paint a picture of a broken man who already has suffered beyond measure, asking Federal Judge James Zagel to extend leniency to a former governor who is now broke and the target of public humiliation.

"Mr. Blagojevich has become, in connection with this case, a tragic figure," attorney Carolyn Gurland wrote in a pre-sentence memorandum to the court.  "An impeached, unemployed criminal defendant, abandoned by all of his advisors and friends, a figure drawing public ridicule and scorn."

"Rod Blagojevich is an intrinsically good, kind, and decent man," Gurland wrote. "He has suffered every kind of public ridicule imaginable--to the point that foreign tourists can often be found posing for photos on the outside staircase to his family house."

The Blagojevich attorneys asked the judge to depart downward from a sentence, which they argued should be at most 51 months in a federal penitentiary.

In their own filing, federal prosecutors painted a very different picture of the former governor.
Arguing for a sentence of 15 to 20 years, assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar cited Blagojevich's "extensive corruption in office, the damage he caused to the integrity of Illinois government, and the need to deter others from similar acts."

While recommending the stiff sentence, prosecutors said their own analysis of the government's arcane sentencing guidelines indicated that Blagojevich was actually eligible for a sentence of 30 years to life

"Blagojevich's criminal activity was serious, extended, and extremely damaging," Schar wrote.

"Blagojevich took office and immediately began plotting with others, to use the Office of Governor for his personal gain, through fraud, bribery, and extortion."

The two filings marked, in essence, the last word from both sides before Zagel imposes sentence in hearings which are set to begin next Tuesday.  But the arguments were so dissimilar, at times it sounded as if the two legal teams were talking about different men.

"Rod Blagojevich did not receive a single cent in connection with the conduct charged in the indictment," his lawyers wrote. "Nor did the count of conviction involve Blagojevich taking a single cent of the taxpayers' money to enrich himself, his friends, or supporters."

"In the unique circumstances in which Governor Blagojevich received nothing and withheld nothing, the notion that he should be punished as if he were a dangerous recidivist felon, is as offensive to the notions of justice and fair play, as it is to common sense."

For their part, the government reminded the judge that Blagojevich's misdeeds came on the heels of the conviction of his predecessor, George Ryan, at a time when he promised to clean up Illinois government. They urged a stronger sentence than Ryan's six and a half years.

"While Blagojevich pledged to restore integrity to the governor's office, he was actively scheming to engage in criminal activity," Schar wrote. "His accomplishments as governor, are far outweighed by the personal greed that infected his acts, and his administration."

The Blagojevich attorneys bristled at the comparison to Ryan, who they argued had been convicted of more serious wrongdoing. They painted Blagojevich as a victim of those he trusted, many of whom testified at his trial.

"Rod Blagojevich did not have control over his advisors," his lawyer wrote. "They poorly and improperly encouraged him, directed him, used him, lied to him, embarrassed him, and led him into the morass of a six year investigation that resulted in the destruction of his life and career."
At the same time, they painted a picture of dire circumstances for the Blagojevich household, citing the appearances by Blagojevich and his wife on outlandish reality shows, in the months leading up to his  trial.

"These appearances were intended to be, and were humiliating.  Mr. and Mrs. Blagojevich were willing to participate in these shows because they needed the money to support their daughters."
Prosecutors said they were sympathetic to the impact which a lengthy jail sentence would have on the former governor's family, but declared that what he now faces, was "the unfortunate result of choices Blagojevich made."

While the government suggested that a hefty sentence would send a strong deterrent message to the public and other politicians, defense lawyers argued that message had already been delivered by the public humiliation and financial ruin which Blagojevich had already faced.

"Certainly, no one having seen what happened to Mr. Blagojevich would want to receive the same treatment," they wrote, adding that there is no possibility that Blagojevich would, or could, repeat the alleged behavior for which he was convicted.

"Despite a strong and seemingly defiant exterior, no one is more acutely aware of the tragedy that has become of his life's work and aspirations, as is Mr. Blagojevich himself."

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