Tuesday a federal judge will decide whether to cut ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence on more than a dozen convictions upheld by an appellate court, including that he sought to exchange an appointment to President Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash.
Blagojevich, known as Inmate No. 40892-424 since he went to prison in 2012, won a resentencing hearing after an appeals court struck down five of his 18 convictions. The Democrat is scheduled to appear on a courtroom screen through a video from a Colorado prison, which will mark his first public appearance since entering prison.
The one-time contestant on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality show has asked U.S. District Judge James Zagel to sharply reduce his sentence on the upheld convictions. Prior to Tuesday, Blagojevich’s projected release date was 2024, factoring in two years of credit for good behavior.
His wife, Patti Blagojevich, also asked for leniency in a letter to Zagel contained in court documents filed Monday.
In her two-page letter, she described the pain of Blagojevich’s absence and how he has missed the graduations and piano recitals of the couple’s children — Annie, and an older daughter, Amy.
“Please let Rod come home. … Please give Annie the chance for a normal happy childhood, that has slipped away for Amy,” she wrote. “I am pleading with you, indeed begging you, to please be merciful.”
Through what she said were almost daily calls home, Patti Blagojevich wrote about how her husband has supported the family.
“Rod has been there with advice and a sympathetic ear for our daughters as they struggle through life with a very recognizable last name and the burden that comes with it,” she wrote.
The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year tossed convictions tied Blagojevich’s bid to win a White House appointment for appointing someone to Obama’s Senate seat. The three-judge panel determined that appointments-for-cash swaps do break the law — but that attempting to swap one job appointment for another does not, and that jurors weren’t properly instructed on that point.
The judges didn’t say Blagojevich was necessarily entitled to a lower sentence than the one imposed on Dec. 7, 2011, given “overwhelming” evidence on the remaining felonies. They said some of Zagel’s sentencing calculations were in error, to Blagojevich’s advantage.
After the appellate court’s finding, Blagojevich appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to toss his remaining convictions, including one for trying to extort a children’s hospital for a campaign contribution and lying to the FBI. But the high court refused to hear the longshot appeal.
Prosecutors have urged Zagel to impose the same 14-year prison term, which marked one of the stiffest sentences for corruption in Illinois history. They argued that maintaining the sentence would send a message to would-be corrupt politicians in a state where four of the last 10 governors have ended up prison.
The defense has asked for a five-year term, citing the dropped counts and Blagojevich’s exemplary behavior in prison. They even pointed to how Blagojevich, an Elvis Presley fan, formed a prison band called “The Jailhouse Rockers.” The group, which had a 21-song play list, dissolved after the lead guitarist was released.
Lawyers also submitted more than 100 letters from prisoners, some of whom referred to Blagojevich as “The Gov.” Brash in his days as governor, prisoners portrayed him as humble and self-effacing, a voracious reader, an insightful life coach and popular lecturer on everything from the Civil War to Richard Nixon.
Calls for leniency have been a tough sells to Zagel, a no-nonsense judge who berated Blagojevich at the 2011 sentencing. Zagel told him “the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured” by his corruption and handed down a far stiffer sentence than many expected.