Chicago Sun-Times

The Blago Blog

Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

John Harris, Gov. Rod Blagojevich's former chief of staff, will report to McHenry County jail on May 22 to carry out his 10-day sentence his lawyer said today.

Terry Ekl, Harris' attorney, said the U.S. Bureau of Prisons designated Harris there. Federal inmates sometimes serve out shorter sentences at county jails, Ekl said.

Harris was a key witness in Blagojevich's trial and his retrial.

Patti Blagojevich expressed anger after Harris was sentenced asking what was wrong with the world that sent her husband away for 14 years but saw his underling get just 10 days.

Harris cooperated from the day of his arrest -- the same day Blagjoevich was arrested.

Patti Blagojevich visited former Governor Rod Blagojevich in Colorado prison over the weekend, calling it "one of the saddest places on earth."
"We spent the weekend in Denver visiting Rod," Patti Blagojevich posted on her Facebook page. "He was so happy to see ... us and we were so happy to see him. That visiting room has to be one of the saddest places on earth though. All those little kids visiting their dads. It breaks your heart."
Rod Blagojevich is serving out a 14-year sentence at FCI Englewood Prison in Littleton, Colo.
Recently, his former lawyers, Sam Adam and Sam Adam Jr. visited the former governor, and reported that he looked tan and had put on at least five pounds of weight from working out.
Patti Blagojevich's Facebook posting got more than 300 "likes" and more than 100 comments.
Said one well-wisher: "(Ultimately), it doesn't matter where you all got together, you were together. That is what matters!"
Another wrote:
"The heartbreaking thing really is that the kids have to see their dads in a place like that. Just saying."
Rod Blagojevich was convicted of 18 federal corruption charges, including attempting to sell President Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Sporting a tan, lighter (but not gray) hair and five pounds more muscle, prison hasn't been too cruel to Rod Blagojevich, his onetime lawyer says.
Of course, Blagojevich just began his 14-year sentence about a month ago.
Blagojevich has a cell mate and they're getting along.
For now, the former governor is washing dishes in the kitchen but he's hoping that'll change by the summer.
For the first 90 days, prison inmates must do menial jobs, his onetime lawyer, Sam Adam Jr. says.
"After 90 days he's hoping for a job in the library, teaching Shakespeare and or Greek Mythology," attorney Sam Adam Jr. says.
Sam Adam Jr. and his father, Sam Adam, both visited the former governor on Sunday in his prison outside of Denver. Adam Jr. said he, his father and his son took a train ride across the country to visit the former client.
Their visit followed a visit by Patti and their two daughters about two weeks ago.
Blagojevich's hair is "not at all" gray, Sam Adam Jr. says. "It's brown. Who knew?"
The former governor has put on five to 10-pounds of muscle, from working out behind bars, Adam says.
And he hasn't had to give up his love for running.
He's running four to five days a week for four to five miles.
Blagojevich wasn't mad about his chief of staff John Harris' 10-day sentence.
Though he apologized for his acts during his December sentencing, Blagojevich yesterday said neither he nor Harris did anything wrong, according to Adam.
Blagojevich's mini-celebrity status hasn't worn out in prison. "He is the mayor," Adam said. "He knows everybody's name. He's politicking there."
Blagojevich was convicted last June on 17 of 20 counts of corruption, including attempting to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.
Fox's Larry Yellen first reported the update from Colorado: watch video here.

The longtime federal witness whose testimony has brought down some of the biggest names in Illinois, is finally scheduled to be sentenced.
U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve on Tuesday set a June 28 sentencing date for Stuart Levine, who testified in the trials of political fixer Tony Rezko and Downstate powerbroker William Cellini. Both Rezko and Cellini were convicted at their trials.
She also scheduled a Sept. 7 sentencing date for Steve Loren, the onetime attorney for the Teachers Retirement System who has also pleaded guilty and testified for the government.
Levine once sat on two state boards. He is an admitted drug user and serial conman who from the witness stand told of a lifetime of scams and swindles including paying out bribes and extorting others who were seeking state work.
Levine had worked out a deal with prosecutors to serve about five and a half years behind bars. It's a deal that defense lawyers have criticized for years, arguing that Levine will see less prison time even though he pocketed actual money.
Prosecutors though say Levine's cooperation was invaluable.
At Rod Blagojevich's December sentencing Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar called Levine one of the most significant cooperators the Dirksen Federal Courthouse had ever seen.
The ultimate decision on Levine's sentence will be up to St. Eve, who asked prosecutors this morning to include in filings the extent of Levine's cooperation.
Rezko's trial was before St. Eve. Last year, she sentenced him to 10 ½ years behind bars.

Read Sun-Times piece on Levine from last October: How conman took down top politicos in Illinois

It may be at least 10 years before Rod Blagojevich is back home for dinner.
What was the last meal he requested before leaving for prison?
A spaghetti dinner.
Patti cooked the spaghetti dinner using Blagojevich's late mother's recipe. "I'm going to eat so much spaghetti I won't need breakfast," he said after giving a statement on live TV.

In his address, he spoke of how it pained him to not be around to help his wife raise their two girls, Amy and Annie.

For his youngest, Annie, Blagojevich left as a memento two dolls that have the capability to play back recorded messages.

According to someone close to the family, one of the dolls plays back Rod Blagojevich's voice, which says: "Hi Annie, Daddy loves you."

Rod Blagojevich's public address today, the day before he goes to prison, will be an "extraordinary" heartfelt farewell of sorts to Illinois residents.

It is no accident that the former governor scheduled his remarks for 5 p.m. prime time TV news. His publicity manager Glenn Selig said Blagojevich is aiming to reach as many people as he can at once.

"He wanted to speak to everybody as a collective. This is the message he's going to be leaving with people. This is what they're going to remember until he returns. This is what he'll remember," Selig said. "I think it's a very important message that he's making and it's a message that he's sending to people."

On Thursday, Blagojevich is to begin his 14-year sentence -- one of the toughest public corruption sentences ever handed out in Illinois. Blagojevich is to report to low-security prison in Colorado.

"He's definitely going to be speaking from the heart. And I think it's an important day, it certainly is for him and the people who have continued to believe in him -- family friends, all of that," Selig said. "It's quite extraordinary, when you think about it, just him doing it. Having the strength to do it. In 24 hours his world is going to be completely changing."

This is from a Selig press release
"This will be one of the most important moments of Rod Blagojevich's life. The governor never memorizes, does not use a script or a teleprompter. He speaks extemporaneously. He will speak from the heart," says Glenn Selig, the former governor's spokesman.

FAQs regarding the statement:

Q: Will there be an opportunity for the media to ask Rod Blagojevich questions?

A: No. This will be a statement only. This is NOT a news conference.

Q: Will the governor be doing any interviews?

A: There are no plans for any interviews with anyone.

Q: Will you release more information about the governor's plans for departing Chicago?

A: No, for security reasons we will not release detailed information.

Blagojevich lawyers say they acted "in good faith"

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Kaeseberg and Blagojevich's other lawyers defended themselves after the brief hearing.

"I stand by the motion -- the motion was absolutely filed in good faith," Kaeseberg said. "Frankly, I'm disappointed because I know we filed this motion in good faith ... I'm proud of the work I've done on this case ... I'm actually proud of the motion."

Kaeseberg has been practicing criminal law since she was sworn in as a lawyer in 2008, she said. As a defense lawyer, she would be negligent if she found out a juror may have committed a rule violation and she did not investigate.

"The issue is trying to resolve whether she has something in her possession that we don't think she should have," Kaeseberg said "We are not allowed to speak to the jurors ourselves. The only way we can really resolve it and find out is by going to Judge Zagel and asking him to have a hearing."

Co-counsel Aaron Goldstein added, "Quite frankly We would not be good attorneys if we didn't file this motion."

Asked if they were prepared to apologize to jury forewoman Connie Wilson , Goldstein said, "We in no way intended to hurt Ms. Wilson in any way."

Asked about the "hare-brained" comment, lead attorney Sheldon Sorosky quipped, "I don't know, I don't have a lot of hair."

Goldstein chimed in: "He doesn't have hair - I don't have a brain."

-Abdon M. Pallasch

Blagojevich judge dismisses motion as "hare-brained"

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By Abdon M. Pallasch

U.S. District Judge James Zagel took a mere three minutes Monday morning to dismiss a motion by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's attorneys as "hare-brained."

Blagojevich's attorneys sought a new trial based on a report that the jury forewoman had displayed a juror questionnaire in a public talk she gave about the trial. Those questionnaires are not supposed to be taken from court, Blagojevich

Just beyond belief, attorney Lauren Kaeseberg argued.

It was unclear whether the forewoman displayed a filled-out or blank questionnaire.

"The motion was prepared without any adequate thought," Zagel scolded Kaeseberg. "You should seek outside counsel ... and send a letter of apology to the juror."

Zagel said he could hold Kaeseberg in contempt of court but was cutting her slack because she was a fairly new lawyer.

"By the absence of precedent, I assume you couldn't find precedent," Zagel said, calling the filing "beyond my imagination."

Zagel two weeks ago sentenced Blagojevich to 14 years in prison on charges of trying to use his office to enrich himself.

Cellini juror issue holds but reporters off the hook

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By Abdon M. Pallasch
Political Reporter/

Reporters are off the hook in the effort to secure a new trial for convicted power broker William Cellini.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel dropped efforts Wednesday to compel reporters for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune to produce notes of any interviews they conducted with a juror in Cellini's trial who concealed two felony convictions when she was filling out paperwork to serve on the jury.

Cellini still is on the hook for his conviction of trying to extort money from "Million Dollar Baby" Producer Tom Rosenberg so that Rosenberg's investment firm could get a share of the state Teacher Retirement System pension fund.

Juror Candy Chiles, who has convictions for drunk-driving and crack cocaine possession, was not in court Wednesday. Zagel said she had called his office Tuesday to say she was in the hospital and would not be able to attend.

Zagel suspended the hearing until she appears in court, possibly later this week.

Cellini attorney Dan Webb told Zagel he objected to even having a hearing. He said Zagel should skip the hearing and proceed directly to a new trial for Cellini.

"Under the law, you are not eligible to serve on a federal jury ... if you are convicted of a felony," Webb said. "Why would someone lie to get on a jury unless they have some type of bias? What I want to establish is that she knowingly and willingly lied on these questions."

Webb noted the irony that he and the government are now on the opposite sides of where they were in the trial of former Gov. George Ryan, who was also represented by Webb. In that case, prosecutors got a woman thrown off the jury because she concealed her arrest record.

After Cellini was found guilty, Tribune reporter Annie Sweeney wrote about her exchange with the juror in which Sweeney asked her about the felony convictions and the woman refused to discuss them. Sun-Times reporter Maudlyne Ihejirika also interviewed the juror but there was no discussion of the woman's arrest record.

Zagel ruled there would be no benefit in compelling either paper's reporters to appear in court or turn over notes.

"There's no reason to require them to appear," Zagel said, adding that any additional detail Webb might find in Sweeney's notebook about the interview, which she already wrote about, would be "trivial."

Zagel assured Webb that "having seen reporters' notebooks" there was likely little fodder to be found that would help Webb make a case.

Journalism watchdog groups expressed relief Wednesday that Zagel dropped, at least for now, efforts to compel reporters to turn over their notes.

"We are independent witnesses to the news and not arms of the court -- this is an action not only journalists should celebrate but anyone who cares about a free press," said Stephen Franklin, president of the Chicago Headline Club, the country's largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Scott Fawell, the former chief of staff of a different convicted governor, George Ryan, is offering a tip on how Rod Blagojevich can cut his lengthy 14-year sentence.

The former governor may be able to make a request with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to take part in a substance abuse program.

Fawell said that's what he did before going into prison.

"What you do is say that in between the time you're sentenced and the time you report, you just couldn't stop drinking," Fawell said.

It shaved time off of Fawell's 78-month sentence he received for corruption that happened while he worked for Ryan. He went through a nine-month program in prison, then got six months off in a halfway house plus one year of credit for doing the program. That's on top of time off for good behavior.

Read the rest of the story here: Start drinking

Fitzgerald on Blago: 'We don't want to be back here again.'

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U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, flanked by 17 other government officials, reacted to Rod Blagojevich's 14-year sentence, calling it "profoundly sad."

Fitzgerald said that having two Illinois governors convicted of crimes in the same century would be too much.

"We've seen it happen twice in five years," Fitzgerald said, calling it "profoundly sad."

"The public has had enough and judges have had enough," Fitzgerald said. "This needs to stop. To put it very, very simply, we don't want to be back here again. .. the short answer is, this must stop."

Fitzgerald said he felt for the Blagojevich children but noted that it's often the family who pays when a criminal gets caught.

"What happened to the family is a very sad situation," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald famously said after Blagojevich's 2008 arrest that "Lincoln would be rolling over in his grave," if he knew of Blagojevich's conduct.

Asked what Lincoln would be doing today, Fitzgerald said:"I'm going to be dull today, I'm not going to comment."

Blagojevich quotes Kipling on his way out of court

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Blagojevich and his wife stopped very briefly in the lobby of the federal building to address the press. He started, as he has been known to do, by quoting Kipling:

"Rudyard Kipling, among the things he wrote was, 'If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same: Patti and I - and especially me -- this is a time to be strong and this is a time fight through adversity. This is a time for me to be strong for my children. To be strong for Patti. This is also a time for Patti and me to go home so we can explain to our kids, to our babies, Amy and Annie, what happened, what all this means, and where we're going from here. We're going to keep fighting on, through this adversity. We'll see you soon."

Blagojevich and his wife and attorneys left without responding to any questions about any plans for an appeal.

-Abdon M. Pallasch

Blagojevich gets Christmas with the family

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Blagojevich will be home for the holidays. He doesn't have to report to prison until February.
Patti Blagojevich did not cry after the sentence was imposed but put her hand up to her mouth.
The former governor himself slightly sunk his head. He was seated.
After court was over, Patti Blagojevich buried her head in her husband's chest.

Blagojevich Judge's sentencing lecture

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"In the United States, we don't much govern at gunpoint," Zagel said. "We require willing ... participation.
This happens most easily when people trust the person at the top to do the right thing most of the time and more important than that to try to do it most of the time. When a state senator takes a bribe, that's one person out of 59.
You are not to be compared with those who hold lesser positions in government. You, as a governor are seen to control all of them, though I concede in practice you don't."

Looking at Blagojevich, Zagel finished, "When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily or quickly repaired. You did that damage."

With that, Zagel sentenced Blagojevich to 168 months -- 14 years in prison. Presuming he serves 85 percent of that, his 15-year-old daughter will be at least 27 when he gets out.

-Abdon M. Pallasch, Natasha Korecki & Lauren Fitzpatrick

Blagojevich gets 14 years

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Disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced Wednesday to 14 years in prison after he made a final plea for leniency, acknowledging his guilt and saying, "I am unbelievably sorry. ... I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions.

"The harm here is not measured in the value of money and property," Judge Zagel tells Blagojevich.

"The harm is the erosion of the public trust in government; [people's] confidence in and trust in government," Zagel said.

'Sorry' Blagojevich gets 14-year prison sentence
Political reaction: No joy, but he had it coming
Amy Blagojevich's letter to Judge Zagel
Key dates in Blagojevich case

Judge finds Blagojevich accepted responsibility

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Judge Zagel said he was satisfied that Blagojevich accepted responsibility for his actions instead of blaming his aides.

That means less prison-time eligibility

He will also get mitigation credit for All Kids.

"I don't doubt his devotion to his children, bit this is not ... exceptional in my own experience," Zagel said. "I see case after case where good fathers are bad citizens. There is no question that the innocent children of felons suffer. This is tragic. But, as he admits, the fault of this lies with the defendant alone. Now it is too late."

-Abdon M. Pallasch, Natasha Korecki and Lauren Fitzpatrick

Prosecutor says sentences up to now too low

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Combating a defense argument from yesterday that sentencing corrupt politicians in Illinois up to now has not had a deterrebnt effect, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar told Judge Zagel that's because judges haven't been sentencing them to long enough terms.

"It goes to show that sentences have not been high enough so far," Schar said. "We should not throw in the towel. There is simply a need to increase punishment."

"A message must be sent to this defendant and others that the consequences are higher now than ever before," Schar said

"A sentence of between 15-20 years ins appropriate in this case," Schar said.

Zagel about to rule

Blagojevich finishes, walks away red-eyed

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Blagojevich left the lectern red-eyed and teary after his address to Zagel, who stared back at him plainly, at times taking notes.
Blagojevich walked over to kiss Patti on the head and she had a pained look on her face. Before his address, he touched her hand and whispered: -"I love you."
During his talk to Zagel, Blagojevich's voice was low, somber and, at times, strained.
A hush grew over the courtroom, and, at times you could only hear the scribbling of pens on paper.

Blagojevich is now standing with Patti and lawyers in noisy courtroom. He's rubbing her back as they wait.

Court is resuming

Blagojevich apologizes to his children

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When the verdicts were being read, Blagojevich told Judge Zagel he knew after the first one that he would be convicted on most of them.

"All I could think about was how soon Patti and I could be home with our kids," he said. "A lot of media surrounds our home during these periods. Patti made it into the house first. Both of my children were, of course, upset. My younger daughter, Annie, was crying. I didn't take us long to calm her down...

"Amy, my teenager, she's 15. She was 14 then. She's a heroine...
"She's number-2 in her class in high school...

"My daughter didn't want to accept it. She begged me to go outside and talk to the media, 'Tell them you didn't do it, that it was wrong.'
"I had to tell her I had my trials, not once but twice.
"I was, under the law, found guilty of these crimes. The fight was over. It was time to accept this -- I needed to accept this and that I couldn't go out and tell the press anything other than what had happened. I couldn't go out and pursue the fight.

"My life is in ruins.
"I'm in no position to earn a living for my children.

"I can't be a lawyer. We have to sell our home.

"I want to thank Patti. She has stood by me in the worst of times, not just the best of times.

"Now my kids have to go out there and know that their dad's a felon. Its not like their name's 'Smith.' They cant hide.

"I accept the people's verdict, Judge, they found me guilty."

-Abdon M. Pallasch, Natasha Korecki & Lauren Fitzpatrick

Blagojevich apologizes for 'trying the case in the media'

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"I want to take this opportunity to apologize to you for fighting this case in the media," Blagojevich told Judge Zagel.

"I also want to apologize for challenging the prosecutors. I was very keen on your comments yesterday on how I saw it as a 'boxing match. 'I saw it actually that way. I studied Alexander Hamilton, back in the 18th Century... It was inappropriate. It was childish and not productive."

Blagojevich apologized for all his comments he said were "immature...petty...ugly...self-centered...self-absorbed."

"If this case was about being self-absorbed, I would have walked in and plead guilty immediately," Blagojevich said.

-Abdon M. Pallasch, Natasha Korecki & Lauren Fitzpatrick

Blagojevich's apology, continued

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"There is a line between routine politics, political horse-trading, political fund-raising. How you ask for political funds.
It was always my intention to try to see if I could do those things on the right side of the line.
I thought they were permissible.
I was mistaken.
The jury convicted me.
Those were my actions.
Those were things I did; talked about doing.
I am responsible for that.
I caused it all. I'm not blaming anybody.
I was the governor and I should have known better."

-Abdon M. Pallasch, Natasha Korecki & Lauren Fitzpatrick

More Blagojevich apology

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"I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions and the things I did and I thought I could do. I'm not blaming anybody.

"I never set out to break the law. I never set out to cross lines."

Blagojevich apologizing

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Blagojevich is admitting he's self-absorbed, saying he's sorry for fighting the case in the media. He's is saying he blames no one else and takes all responsibity

Blagojevich targetted quips for each juror, prosecutor says

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Blagojevich "Spent seven days on the witness stands perjuring himself -- he tried to lie his way out of a guilty verdict," Assistant U.S. Attroeny Reid Schar said.

"He testified Lisa Madigan was his first choice for the senate seat. That was a lie," Schar said. "He lied repeatedley. He is incredibly manpulative and he knows how to be. To his credit, he is clever about it."

From press accounts of the jurors, Schar said he could tell that the jurors saw through his efforts.

"Twelve people in a jury box -- he caters to them to get what he wants," Schar said. "The government caught it. I'm happy to see, based on the press reports, that jurors caught it. He managed to hit on things... There was a juror from Boston. Suddenly we heard how he loved the city of Boston. To a juror who had opened a Greek restaurant. [Another worked in a library] He said he loved to study at the library and on the way there would stop by the Greek restaurant to get a cup of coffee."

Judge Zagel laughed at that.

"He wanted to manipulate the audience to help himself."

Blagojevich was cracking jokes up until the hearing started. He told a reporter that her son should get away from studying political science: "It doesn't pay for college." She says that's he's interested in criminal justice and his smile widens. "Let me know if you want me to talk him out of that," he said, heading back to the defense table.

-Abdon M. Pallasch and Natasha Korecki

Blagojevich's actions caused real harm, prosecutor says

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"The defendant in this case held up funding to every children's hospital in the state of Illinois for 30 days," Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said. "That was a real harm."

"He sat on legislation for ... days that would have helped the entire horse-racing industry," Schar said.

Schar is attacking the defense arguments from Tuesday that Blagojevich's actions were "no big deal" because he eventually signed the legislation. He only signed the horse-racing and legislation and released the money for the children's hospital after he was arrested, Schar said.

He also left Illinois with just one vote in the U.S. Senate while important votes were being taken, Schar said.

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