Chicago Sun-Times
Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

September 2011 Archives


Former Governor Rod Blagojevich's lawyers will ask a federal judge to sentence the former governor to no prison time, the ex-governor's attorney, Shelly Sorosky said today.

Sorosky called Blagojevich a "fit candidate" for probation when his sentencing does happen. Today, U.S. District Judge James Zagel announced the Oct. 6th sentencing date would be delayed. Sorosky predicts it will happen in early November.

"He's a fit candidate for probation. The taxpayers never lost a dime. Blagojevich never received a dime," Sorosky said of his client who was convicted on 17 of 20 counts of corruption in June. Blagojevich was convicted of trying to extract a job or campaign contribution in exchange for appointing a replacement to President Obama's vacant Senate seat.

"And all the talk involving campaign contributions involved regular campaign donors who were just discussing with Blagojevich how much to give or who were big campaign contributors in the past," Sorosky argued.

Sorosky's comments illustrate how distant the gulf is between defense lawyers and the prosecution when it comes to sentencing issues. Prosecutors have calculated the guideline sentencing range for Blagojevich at 30 years to life. The numbers were called "cruel" by the defense.

Prosecutors though said they had to come up with those numbers but hadn't made a recommendation to Zagel. Factored into their range was the potential loss of $1.5 million -- what Blagojevich thought supporters of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. would pay if Blagojevich had appointed Jackson to the Senate seat. Neither the appointment, nor the payment happened, though. The defense has argued that it was never going to happen.

Legal experts have said that Blagojevich is more likely to face a sentence of about 10 to 12 years.

Judge strikes Blagojevich sentencing date; will set new date

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U.S. District Judge James Zagel today has formally announced he will move former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's Oct. 6th sentencing date.

The Sun-Times reported on Friday that Blagojevich's lawyer said the date was "quite certain" to move since Zagel had set the trial of onetime Blagojevich co-defendant William Cellini to begin three days earlier.

An entry entered in the court file today simply states:
"Sentencing set for 10/6/2011 is stricken until further order of court."

On Friday, Blagojevich lawyer Shelly Sorosky said he was sure his client's date would be moved once Zagel told prosecutors to have witnesses ready on Oct. 5 in the Cellini case.

"It's not going to happen, I'm telling you," Sorosky said Friday. "It would taint the Cellini jury. I'm quite certain it will be continued."

Cellini was a onetime co-defendant of Blagojevich. Cellini is accused of trying to extort a businessman into giving a campaign contribution to Blagojevich.

The Chicago Sun-Times earlier this month first reported that a delay was likely for Blagojevich.

The Blagojevich sentencing is likely to take more than one day and will be an all-out fight between prosecutors, who have calculated the former governor's possible sentencing range at 30 years to life and defense lawyers, who are closer to asking for probation.

Prosecutors have said they came up with their range because they're required to and have not made their recommendation to the judge on what sentence Blagojevich should face yet.


After a federal judge today said the trial of Springfield millionaire William Cellini will go forward on Oct. 3,
Rod Blagojevich's lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, said this afternoon that he's "quite certain" the ex-governor's sentencing will be delayed.

"Our sentencing date is going to be continued," Sorosky said, when told of the news that U.S. District Judge James Zagel kept Cellini's Oct. 3 trial date intact and asked that prosecutors have witnesses ready for Oct. 5. Blagojevich's sentencing right now is scheduled for Oct. 6. "It's not going to happen, I'm telling you. It would taint the Cellini jury. I'm quite certain it will be continued."

Cellini was a onetime co-defendant of Blagojevich. In court today, Cellini lawyer Dan Webb raised questions about publicity from Blagojevich in general affecting his client and asked that potential jurors be questioned individually. Webb asked Zagel in court about the ex-governor's sentencing date and the judge cut him off: "We'll deal with that later," Zagel said.

There is a status hearing in the Blagojevich case Wednesday.
"I assume Judge (James) Zagel in his wisdom will probably tell us (on Wednesday) we're being continued on the 6th," Sorosky said.

Prosecutors would not comment after court.

The Blagojevich sentencing promises to be a heated fight, after prosecutors calculated the former governor's possible sentencing range at 30 years to life. Prosecutors though said they were required to come up with calculations under law and have not made their recommendation on what sentence should face yet.

Cellini is accused of trying to extort a businessman into giving a campaign contribution to Blagojevich.

The Chicago Sun-Times earlier this month first reported that a delay was likely for Blagojevich.

Zagel did not rule on the government's request to bar the defense from poking into the racy past of top witness Stuart Levine. Webb said he needed time to respond to a couple of petitions put forth by the government.


Federal prosecutors in Chicago are asking a federal judge to block "irrelevant" questions about the personal life of the expected star witness in the William Cellini trial: serial swindler Stuart Levine.

Prosecutors say defense lawyers for Cellini should not be allowed to delve into Levine's lurid background, including his previous testimony that he'd engage in all-night, drug-fueled parties at the Purple Hotel in Skokie and then attend a meeting for a state board the following day.

The government is trying to avoid the same 15-day saga that played out in Tony Rezko's 2008 corruption trial, where Levine, once a GOP supporter and the member of two influential state boards, spelled out many details of his personal life, arguably creating a distraction in the trial.

"The government anticipates that the defendant will attempt to introduce evidence or
cross-examine Stuart Levine, a potential government witness, on certain matters that are
irrelevant and/or unduly prejudicial, such as on matters pertaining to Levine's drug use and
personal life," prosecutors wrote in today's filing. "...Those topic areas are as irrelevant
and/or unfairly prejudicial."

Prosecutors are again before Judge James Zagel, who previously ruled that those issues could not come up if Levine were to testify in the Blagojevich trial. He never did.

Cellini is a wealthy Springfield power broker accused of conspiring with others to extort a campaign contribution for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich from Capri Capital's Tom Rosenberg, who is also a Hollywood film producer.

Levine is key to Cellini's trial because he and Cellini are on recordings.

Cellini's lawyer, Dan Webb, recently told the Chicago Sun-Times he wasn't worried about the recordings -- or Levine.

Webb, who said he will personally cross-examine Levine, said the prosecution's case rests on the allegation that Cellini worked to extort Rosenberg.

"Rosenberg has admitted under oath in the Rezko trial that Cellini never asked him to make a campaign contribution, never once," Webb has said.

Levine has admitted to a litany of corruption, including rigging votes on two state boards in exchange for kickbacks.

Rezko, who had been cooperating with authorities following his conviction, is not expected to testify.

Cellini is supposed to go on trial Oct. 3 though Blagojevich --once a codefendant -- is scheduled to be sentenced three days later.

Scheduling could come up in a hearing set for this Friday.

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Responding to news reports last night and this morning regarding former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's sentencing, the U.S. Attorney's office released a rare statement making a distinction.

As the Sun-Times explained in today's story, prosecutors' calculations of a sentencing range for a defendant sometimes differs from what they actually recommend to a judge. In their statement, prosecutors say they've not made a recommendation yet and have submitted calculations for what they believe the ex-governor could receive under sentencing guidelines.

For instance, prosecutors had calculated the range for former Police Cmdr. Jon Burge at 24 to 40 years but they did not make a specific recommendation beyond asking for "substantial time." Burge ended up getting 4½ years.

"The government has not recommended a sentence publicly or privately, not withstanding news reports to the contrary. The government has submitted a calculation of the advisory sentencing guidelines, as it is required to do in all cases. The sentencing guideline formulas are established by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The government submitted that calculation to the probation office as is standard practice and we will not comment on those calculations publicly."

Still, Blagojevich's lawyers called the government's submission to the U.S. Probation Department, which was not public, "harsh and cruel."

Scoop: Feds say Rod Blagojevich could face 30 years to life in prison


Federal prosecutors argue Rod Blagojevich could face 30 years to life in prison, sources say -- a sentencing range that will be bitterly disputed by the former governor's defense lawyers.

Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky called the government's numbers "harsh and cruel," Wednesday but said he wouldn't discuss them. The prosecution's calculation was submitted in private. Sorosky said the defense would put forth its own version that is a far cry from the government's.

"We are preparing a submission to Judge Zagel, which is far, far, far under those draconian and harsh and cruel numbers," Sorosky said. "We are making our own guideline calculation which is fair and based on facts and the evidence at trial."

Blagojevich, 54, who is now scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 6, was convicted in June on 17 of 20 counts of corruption, including charges that he schemed to sell President Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. Blagojevich was also convicted last year of one count of making false statements to the FBI.

The range put forth by prosecutors is not set in stone, and their calculations sometimes differ from the amount of time they actually recommend that a judge give a defendant.

Judges rely heavily on recommendations put together by the U.S. Probation Department. And defense lawyers will also submit their version of events. The former governor's lawyers are expected to argue that Blagojevich shouldn't get much prison time, in part because he didn't take money in the crimes for which he was convicted.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel will have wide discretion over the former governor's prison term, as sentencing guidelines for federal judges are advisory. Judges typically listen to all sides and then decide, based on a number of factors that make up the sentencing range.

Before former Gov. George Ryan was sentenced for corruption in 2006, the U.S. Probation Office recommended a range of eight to ten years in prison. Prosecutors did not publicly disclose a sentencing range, but they argued Ryan should not receive less than ten years in prison. He wound up getting 6 ½ years.

Prosecutors had calculated the range for former Police Cmdr. Jon Burge at 24 to 40 years but they did not make a specific recommendation beyond asking for "substantial time." Burge ended up getting 4 ½ years.

"While that may be the government's calculation, it's good to keep in mind that Judge Zagel has ultimate discretion," said Patrick Collins, a former prosecutor in the Ryan case. "I would be shocked if he would consider a sentence anywhere near that."

In the prosecution's calculations, the government says Blagojevich faces more time because he took the witness stand and allegedly obstructed justice, sources said. As governor, he was also leader of an enterprise, they will argue.

The U.S. Attorney's office had no comment.

Though Blagojevich's sentencing is set to begin Oct. 6, Sorosky has previously questioned whether it would begin on time since the same judge is set to begin the corruption trial of Springfield power broker William Cellini three days earlier.

Sentencing filings in the case are expected Sept. 30.

By Natasha Korecki
Federal Courts Reporter/nkorecki@suntimes.com

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said he sometimes wants to smack people "upside the head" who tell him after he's convicted someone that they knew all along the person was a crook.
"Seriously, speak up," Fitzgerald said in a talk to the City Club of Chicago Monday.
"The one thing I find frustrating is that people view corruption as a law enforcement problem. If I had a dollar for everyone who has come up to me after we've convicted someone and said: 'yes, we knew he or she was doing that all the time but we wondered when someone was going to get around to doing something about it. And I bite my lip, but I wanted to smack them upside the head."
The person who needs to do something about corruption, he said: "was you."
"It is my view that sometimes we say that's the way it is in Illinois or that's the way it is in Chicago. If you're finding yourself saying that, what you're really saying is: "that's the way I will allow it to be," Fitzgerald said.
"You either speak up and do something about it or you're part of the problem. That's the only way to look at it."
Fitzgerald would not hint at how much time prosecutors will ask Judge James Zagel to sentence former Gov. Rod Blagojevich at his upcoming sentencing.
Fitzgerald, who recently marked 10 years on the job in Chicago, talked to the club about his time in New York as a terrorism prosecutor and the changes he's seen in information sharing among law enforcement agencies. That helped with the terrorism case involving David Headley, who has pleaded guilty to aiding a terror attack in Mumbai, India, that claimed more than 160 lives. Fitzgerald said: "law enforcement, prosecutors and the FBI were married at the hip." Headley was a key witness this summer in a trial that saw the conviction of Chicago Tahawwur Rana.
Asked if he planned to leave Chicago anytime soon, he said simply:
"I love my job."
The crowd laughed, as did the U.S. attorney who saw the convictions of two former governors and of a massive mob case during his tenure, when one of the questioners asked Fitzgerald to round off to the nearest 20, the number of targets in the packed room.
Fitzgerald reiterated a plea he's made in the past to corporations to hire ex-felons to help give them an option other than returning to drugs or gangs and keep down recidivism.
After the event, a member of the media asked: Who should hire George Ryan?
"I'm not gonna go there," Fitzgerald said.

Blagojevich sentencing could come later than expected

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Rod Blagojevich's scheduled sentencing date next month directly conflicts with a trial in a related case, raising questions as to whether it will get pushed back.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel set Blagojevich's sentencing for Oct. 6. However, on Oct. 3, the trial of Springfield power broker William Cellini -- which entails allegations involving Blagojevich fund-raisers -- is scheduled to start before the same judge and some of the same prosecutors.

While Cellini attorney Dan Webb said Wednesday he believes his client's trial date isn't going to move, Blagojevich lawyer Sheldon Sorosky said he wouldn't be surprised if his client's sentencing does.

"Obviously, history would indicate that a judge who's in the middle of a trial is not going to delay the trial for a sentencing," Sorosky said.

Unless something changes, Zagel would be in the unlikely position of picking a jury for Cellini's trial, then pausing the proceedings to begin what's expected to be a highly-publicized, lengthy sentencing of Blagojevich.

Read the full story here: Blagojevich sentencing

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