Chicago – Rod R. Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, was sentenced on Wednesday to 14 years in federal prison for 18 felony corruption convictions, including trying to sell or trade the Senate seat that President Obama left behind when he moved to the White House.
The sentence, which fell just short of what prosecutors had asked for, came about an hour after Mr. Blagojevich apologized in court to residents of his state, to the judge in his case and to his family.
“I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions, words, things that I did, that I thought I could do,” he said.
Mr. Blagojevich’s crimes carried maximum sentences that could have stretched into hundreds of years behind bars, but federal prosecutors had argued that he deserved at least 15 to 20 years in prison. Mr. Blagojevich’s lawyers were seeking far less, saying simply that they were advocating for “the lowest sentence possible.”
Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat who won two terms as governor before being impeached and removed from office, will become Illinois’s fourth governor in recent memory to go to prison. One of the former governors was convicted of crimes unrelated to his time in office, but the statistic is mortifying to residents here, even in a state long known for political shenanigans.
Although Mr. Blagojevich had been outspoken in the past about his innocence, he was remorseful in court on Wednesday.
“I accept the peoples’ verdict, Judge, they found me guilty,” he said adding later, “All I can say is I never wanted to hurt anyone.”
Mr. Blagojevich’s immediate predecessor, former Gov. George Ryan, is currently serving 6 ½ years at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., also for corruption.
Mr. Ryan, a Republican, was already engulfed in scandal when Mr. Blagojevich first ran for governor, and Mr. Blagojevich portrayed himself as a voice for reform amid so much unpleasantness. “On the heels of one corrupt governor and after running on a campaign to end ‘pay-to-play,’ Blagojevich took office and immediately began plotting with others to use the office of the governor for his personal gain through fraud, bribery and extortion,” prosecutors wrote in legal filings to the judge.
But Mr. Blagojevich’s lawyers had tried to present a different, warmer and cleaner side to their client. They portrayed Mr. Blagojevich, whose wife, Patti, sat behind him in court on Tuesday, occasionally crying, as a doting family man whose two young daughters would be crushed by his incarceration. They suggested that though he was the governor, he was surrounded by more dominant advisers who gave him lots of bad advice.
They said his policies for the state — health care insurance for children from poor families and free train and bus rides for older people — had been efforts to help citizens. And they compared his crimes with corruption cases of all sorts, all over the country, and concluded that 15 years in prison for Mr. Blagojevich’s crimes would be out of proportion.
“They’re minimally wrong compared to the outrageous conduct that was shown in these other cases,” Sheldon Sorosky, one of Mr. Blagojevich’s lawyers, said of his crimes.
Mr. Blagojevich was arrested in December 2008, just weeks after Mr. Obama’s election as president, and during a period when Mr. Blagojevich was mulling whom to choose to succeed him in the Senate.
At the time, federal authorities were secretly recording Mr. Blagojevich’s phone calls as part of a broader criminal investigation, and they captured him talking in stunningly crass terms about what he might be able to get — campaign donations, a high-paying job, a cabinet position — in exchange for his choice of a new senator. “I’ve got this thing, and it’s [expletive] golden,” he said on one recording, in a line that has since become part of the state’s lexicon.
After a trial that ended with a jury deadlocked on all but one of the charges, a second jury convicted Mr. Blagojevich during a scaled-down and simplified trial this year. It convicted him of wire fraud, attempted extortion, soliciting bribes, conspiracy to commit extortion and conspiracy to solicit and accept bribes; the earlier jury had convicted him of lying to federal agents. In addition to the convictions for trying to benefit from his role in selecting a senator, Mr. Blagojevich was found guilty of trying to get campaign contributions from the leader of a pediatric hospital and a racetrack owner in exchange for changes to state practices.