CHICAGO (AP) — Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been convicted of 17 of the 20 charges against him, many related to his attempt to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat.
Jurors deadlocked on one charge of attempted extortion in an alleged shakedown involving funding for a school in the district of then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel.
The jury found Blagojevich not guilty of soliciting bribes in the alleged shakedown of a road-building executive. The panel deadlocked on a charge of attempted extortion on that same case.
Blagojevich rode his talkative “everyman” image to two terms as Illinois governor before scandal made him the object of national jokes.
Because the allegations had to do with Obama’s Senate seat — and because Blagojevich never hesitated to talk about himself when media cameras were around — the case attracted national attention.
The verdict was a bitter defeat for Blagojevich, who had spent 2½ years professing his innocence on reality TV shows and later on the witness stand.
His defense team had insisted that hours of FBI wiretap recordings were just the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud. He faces up to 300 years in prison, although sentencing guidelines are sure to reduce his time behind bars.
He also faces up to five additional years in prison for his previous conviction of lying to the FBI.
Blagojevich becomes the second straight Illinois governor convicted of corruption. His predecessor, George Ryan, is now serving 6 1/2 years in federal prison.
When sentenced later this year, Blagojevich is virtually certain to get a significant prison term that experts said could be 10 to 15 years.
After hearing the verdict, Blagojevich turned to defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky and asked “What happened?” His wife, Patti, slumped against her brother, then rushed into her husband’s arms.
The former governor spoke only briefly with reporters as he left the courthouse, saying he was disappointed and stunned by the verdict.
“Well, among the many lessons I’ve learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less, so I’m going to keep my remarks kind of short,” Blagojevich said, adding that the couple wanted “to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out.”
Monday’s decision capped a long-running spectacle in which Blagojevich became famous for blurting on a recorded phone call that his ability to appoint Obama’s successor to the Senate was “f—ing golden” and that he wouldn’t let it go “for f—ing nothing.”
Judge James Zagel has ruled that Blagojevich will be barred from travelling outside the area without permission from the judge. A status hearing for sentencing was set for Aug. 1.
The case exploded into scandal when Blagojevich was awakened by federal agents on Dec. 9, 2008, at his Chicago home and was led away in handcuffs. Federal prosecutors had been investigating his administration for years, and some of his closest cronies had already been convicted.
Blagojevich, who was also accused of shaking down businessmen for campaign contributions, was swiftly impeached and removed from office.
The verdict provided affirmation to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, one of the nation’s most prominent prosecutors, who, after the governor’s arrest, had condemned Blagojevich’s dealings as a “political corruption crime spree.”
The key question for the jury was whether to accept the defense suggestion that Blagojevich’s activities amounted to “the kind of political wheeling and dealing that is common in Illinois and around the country.”
“That,” said Fitzgerald, his voice rising, “couldn’t be any further from the truth. … Selling a Senate seat, shaking down a children’s hospital and squeezing a person to give money before you sign a bill that benefits them is not a gray area. It’s a crime.”
Fitzgerald also addressed a question that has hung over the case ever since Blagojevich was arrested: Why did authorities not wait until the governor actually made a deal for the Senate seat? Doing so might have helped ensnare other conspirators.
A U.S. Senate seat “should not be put up for sale. You should not let the sale happen. … Our job is to try to prevent crime, not just prosecute crime,” he said.
Fitzgerald pledged to retry the governor after the first jury failed to reach a decision on all but the least serious of 24 charges against him.
On Monday, the jury voted to convict on 17 of 20 counts after deliberating nine days.
After his arrest, Blagojevich called federal prosecutors “cowards and liars” and challenged Fitzgerald to face him in court if he was “man enough.”
In what many saw as embarrassing indignities for a former governor, he sent his wife to the jungle for a reality television show, “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here,” where she had to eat a tarantula.
He later showed his own ineptitude at simple office skills before being fired on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”
To most Illinois residents, he was a reminder of the corruption that has plagued the state for decades.
Blagojevich seemed to believe he could talk his way out of trouble from the witness stand. Indignant one minute, laughing the next, seemingly in tears once, he endeavored to counteract the blunt, greedy man he appeared to be on FBI wiretaps. He apologized to jurors for the four-letter words that peppered the recordings.
“When I hear myself swearing like that, I am an F-ing jerk,” he told jurors.
Other times, when a prosecutor read wiretap transcripts where Blagojevich seems to speak clearly of trading the Senate seat for a job, Blagojevich told jurors, “I see what I say here, but that’s not what I meant.”
The government offered a starkly different assessment to jurors: Blagojevich was a liar, and had continued to lie, over and over, to their faces.
Robert Grant, head of the FBI’s Chicago office, said the agency’s eavesdropping helped seal the verdict.
“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,” Grant said.