Former Illinois Governor sentenced to 14 years

CHICAGO Wed Dec 7, 2011 10:56pm GMT

Disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich leaves his Chicago home for the second day of his sentencing hearing December 7, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress

Disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich leaves his Chicago home for the second day of his sentencing hearing December 7, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for political corruption including attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then president-elect Barack Obama.

Blagojevich, who turns 55 on Saturday, must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence or about 12 years.

He was convicted of seeking jobs and campaign contributions in exchange for state government action. Blagojevich, a Democrat who was ousted from office in 2009, had asked U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel for mercy, saying he was "unbelievably sorry."

Zagel said before sentencing that he accepted Blagojevich's apology, but "it comes too late." Zagel disputed the defence theory that Blagojevich was misled by his staff.

"The governor was not marched along the criminal path by his staff," Zagel said. "He marched them and ruined a few of their careers."

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence suggesting Blagojevich sought $1.5 million (955.2 thousand pounds) in campaign contributions from supporters of Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., in exchange for appointing him to the Senate seat. They also said Blagojevich sought a cabinet post or a high paying Washington job in exchange for appointing Obama's choice for the Senate seat, Valerie Jarrett, now a White House aide.

He was also convicted of attempting to shake down the head of a children's hospital for campaign cash in exchange for authorizing an increase in doctor reimbursement fees, and for shaking down the head of Illinois racetracks in exchange for approving legislation favourable to the industry.

Federal authorities, who had been taping Blagojevich's profanity-laced conversations with aides, arrested him in December 2009, before he could complete the crime, prosecutors have argued.

Blagojevich was tried twice -- first in August 2010, when he was convicted of one charge of lying to investigators and jurors deadlocked on 23 other counts. After a second trial this year, he was convicted of 17 of 20 counts.

Blagojevich must report to prison on February 16.

His predecessor in the governor's office, Republican George Ryan, is currently in prison on corruption charges.

(Reporting by Janan Hanna; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune)

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