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Former US governor gets 14-year jail term for auctioning Obama's Senate seat

Last updated on: December 8, 2011 10:53 IST

Former US governor gets 14-year jail term



Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for trying to auction President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat in 2008 and several other corruption charges.

He is the second governor after George Ryan to be sentenced for corruption. Ryan was sentenced to 6.5 years in jail for fraud and racketeering charges in 2006.

Blagojevich's sentence came following his conviction at trials in 2010 and 2011 on 18 felony counts of corruption during his tenure as governor, including his effort in 2008 to illegally trade the appointment of a United States Senator in exchange for $1.5 million in campaign contributions or other personal benefits.

Judge James Zagel, known for humorous comments in court, remained stiff on Wednesday while awarding Blagojevich the sentence, saying that although the ousted governor has apologised for his mistakes and was worried about his family and children, he had not thought about them when acting in "reckless" conduct by being involved in "pay-to-play" politics by holding down the horse racing and Children Memorial Hospital legislation.

Blagojevich was sentenced for shaking down the chief executive of a children's hospital for $25,000 in campaign contributions in exchange for implementing an increase to
pediatric reimbursement rates; holding up the signing of a bill to benefit the Illinois horse racing industry in an attempt to illegally obtain $100,000 in campaign contributions; and lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2005.

Blagojevich, who will turn 55 on December 10, was ordered to surrender to the US Bureau of Prisons on February 16, 2012, to begin serving his sentence.

The prison term is the longest-ever imposed on a former governor in the Northern District of Illinois.

Image: Rod Blagojevich


Former US governor gets 14-year jail term

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"When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn, disfigured and not easily repaired," Zagel said while imposing the sentence after a two-day hearing.

"I accept the people's verdict, judge," Blagojevich, who chatted with the media in the morning, said soberly.

"All I want to say is that I never wanted to hurt anyone, most of all Children's Memorial Hospital," he added.

After the sentence was announced, his wife Patti collapsed in his arms and wept.

Two Indian American businessmen -- Rajinder Bedi and Raghuveer Nayak -- were accused of helping Blagojevich for planning to hold a fundraiser to appoint Jesse Jackson Jr in the senate seat.

Bedi was an aide in the Blagojevich government and Nayak was very close to the Jackson family.

They tried to sell the empty seat in exchange for a $ 6 million fundraiser and raise one million dollars for Blagojevich.

While Bedi testified, Nayak did not. Neither of them were charged in connection with the case.

In August, a federal grand jury subpoenaed 30 doctors including more than 10 of Nayak's employees.

FBI was investigating whether Nayak made improper payments to doctors to perform surgery at the surgical centres he owns in Illinois and Indiana.

Recently, when PTI contacted Harish Bhatt, an Indian American businessman, who owns pharmacies in Joliet and was a fund raiser for Blagojevich, he declined to comment.

Almost all Indian-Americans who helped in fundraising activities for Blagojevich have been questioned by the FBI.

The judge imposed a fine of $20,000 and two years of supervised release after incarceration.

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Blagojevich also must pay a special assessment of $1,800, or $100 on each count of conviction.

"People have the right to expect that their elected leaders will honour the oath they swear to, and this sentence shows that the justice system will stand up to protect their expectations," said Patrick J Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

"The sentence handed down today represents a repayment of the debt that Blagojevich owes to the people of Illinois," said Robert D Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI.

Blagojevich, a lawyer and former state prosecutor, state legislator, and US Representative, was arrested on December 9, 2008, while serving his second term as governor.

He was accused of using his office in numerous matters involving state appointments, business, legislation and pension fund investments to seek or obtain such financial benefits as money, campaign contributions, and employment for himself and others, in exchange for official actions, including trying to leverage his authority to appoint a United States Senator to replace then President-elect Obama.

Blagojevich went on trial in the summer of 2010 and was convicted of lying to FBI agents when he falsely told them in an interview on March 16, 2005, that he did not track, or want to know, who contributed to him or how much money they contributed to him.

He went on trial again in the spring of 2011 and was convicted on 17 additional counts, including 10 counts of wire fraud, two counts of attempted extortion, two counts of conspiracy to commit extortion, one count of soliciting bribes, and two counts of conspiracy to solicit and accept bribes.

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