Monday, June 27, 2011

Bye-Bye Blago: Blagojevich Convicted on 17 Counts

Former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich (a.k.a. Blago), was found guilty today in his corruption retrial. The jury deliberated for nine-days and returned a guilty verdict on 17 of the 20 counts.

Blago [54] was the Governor of Illinois at the time that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Blago had already been under investigation by the FBI (since 2005) for other corruption allegations. This was compounded after Obama’s senate seat was vacated in 2008 and new allegations surfaced that Blago was selling Obama’s senate seat to the highest bidder. The case against Blago involved pay-to-play and influence peddling allegations, including the alleged solicitation of personal benefit in exchange for an appointment to the United States Senate as a replacement for Barack Obama.

After an arrest, Illinois officials began calling for Blago’s resignation, however, he refused to step down, claiming publically that the charges against him were false and unfounded, and that he would be vindicated (Letterman, 2009). Eventually, Blago was impeached by the Illinois General Assembly and removed from office by the Illinois Senate in January 2009. After his removal, the federal investigation continued against Blago, and he was indicted on corruption charges in April 2009. The main charge against him for trying to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat is bribery, which is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty. Offering and accepting money for a United States Senate seat is a crime under the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof…”

After 14 days of deliberations, jurors in the first trial last year said they found the case confusing, and they agreed on just one of 24 counts—convicting Blago only of lying to the FBI. Blago has clearly not taken this process seriously, particularly after his win in the first trial, boasting publically that he is innocent and will beat all charges in the next trial. Currently on Blago’s Twitter account (@governorrod) his profile reads: “Former governor of Illinois and innocent of all charges. I did not let you down. Follow me on this journey to clear my name and reveal the truth.” Apparently the jury did not agree with this statement.

In his corruption retrial, Blagojevich was charged with an array of counts, including wire fraud, attempted extortion, extortion conspiracy and conspiracy to solicit a bribe. Blago was found guilty on all 11 of the counts pertaining to the attempted “sale” of President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat in 2008. The jury returned no verdicts on two counts pertaining to attempted extortion and a not guilty on one count of trying to solicit of a bribe of an Illinois Tollway official.

Prosecutors painted a picture of Blagojevich as a desperate and selfish man who was jealous of Obama’s political rise. Jurors heard one tape in which Blagojevich complains to his advisors about his lot in life.

“I gotta tell ya, I don't wanna be governor for the next two years. I wanna get going. I'll, I, this has been two shitty fucking years where I'm doing the best I can trying to get through a brick wall and find ways around stuff, but it's like just screwing my family and time is passing me by and I'm stuck, it's no good. It's no good. I gotta get moving. The whole world's passing me by and I'm stuck in this fucking job as governor now. Everybody's passing me by and I'm stuck.”

In that same call Blagojevich curses Obama because the president-elect doesn’t seem to be offering him much in exchange for getting [Valerie] Jarrett appointed to the senate.
“I mean you guys are telling me I just gotta suck it up for two years and do nothing. Give this mother fucker, his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him!”

In a secretly recorded call on November 7, 2008, Blagojevich tells an advisor he wants to be the secretary of Health and Human Services.
“And if I'd get that, and, and, and if, if that was somethin' available to me and maybe it's really unrealistic, but if that was available to me I could do Valerie Jarrett in a heartbeat."

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who was called by the defense, actually helped the prosecution. Jackson said that Blago had asked him for a $25,000 campaign contribution. Later, Jackson’s wife applied for a job with the state but didn’t get it. At a subsequent meeting in Washington D.C., Jackson testified that Blago referred to the job and said, “You should have given me that $25,000.”

Blago has been anything but apologetic for brazenly abusing his power and adding to the public distrust of government officials. Blago will be spending a considerable amount of time in prison—wire fraud, alone, carries a 20 year sentence—where he will have plenty of time to ask his maker for forgiveness. In total, he faces up to 300 years in prison.

Judge James Zagel released Blago for the time being, but he barred him from traveling outside the northern district of Illinois without permission. A status hearing for sentencing has been set for August 1.

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