Crime & Courts

Blagojevich convicted on 17 corruption counts

CHICAGO — Saying he was "stunned," former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was uncharacteristically tight-lipped Monday after a jury convicted him on 17 of 20 counts of corruption against him.

Holding his wife's hand, Blagojevich spoke in a somber tone to a crush of reporters in the federal courthouse. "Patti and I obviously are very disappointed in the outcome. I, frankly, am stunned. There's not much left to say other than we want to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and try to sort things out. And I'm sure we'll be seeing you."

The two then walked to a waiting car as some in the crowd booed.

The federal jury found that the former governor brazenly abused the powers of his office in a series of attempted shakedowns captured on undercover government recordings.

Blagojevich showed no reaction as the jury announced its decision. Once the verdicts were read, he sat back in his chair with his lips pursed, looked toward his wife and whispered, "I love you."

As the first guilty verdict was read, Patti Blagojevich slumped into the arms of her brother, who stroked her head. She kept shaking her head "no" as the jurors left the courtroom, and once the judge was gone, the former governor grabbed his wife's hand and hugged and kissed her.

When he arrived at his house, Blagojevich said he wanted to "let the people know I fought real hard for them."

As Blagojevich was heading home, the forewoman of the jury was telling reporters that jurors were confident they had reached a "fair and just" verdict.

A woman, known as Juror 103, said Blagojevich's testimony made reaching a verdict a bit more difficult "because he was personable."

"It made it harder to separate that from what we had heard" in recordings, she said.

Another woman, Juror 140, said she sometimes found Blagojevich's testimony "manipulative."

"I would rather have heard just the facts," she said. "I think (with) our verdict, we did not believe it (the testimony)."

That same juror said the evidence on the sale of the U.S. Senate seat was the clearest of all the charges because of the abundance of recorded evidence. "We felt he was trying to make a trade for the Senate seat," she said.

The jury took multiple votes at times during the 10 days of deliberations. It convicted Blagojevich on all 11 counts on the sale of the U.S. Senate and all three counts on the shakedowns of Children's Memorial Hospital and a racetrack executive.

The jury acquitted him on one count and deadlocked on a second count accusing him of shaking down a construction executive. It also deadlocked on the one count alleging Blagojevich shook down then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the verdict was a "bittersweet moment."

He noted that five years ago, another jury convicted an Illinois governor and sent a message that corruption would not be tolerated. "Governor Blagojevich did not get that message."

If people start to believe that it's politics as usual to trade a Senate seat for campaign donations, "then we're in a world of hurt," he said.

This marks the second time in less than a year that the 54-year-old Blagojevich, the only Illinois chief executive ever impeached and ousted from office, had been convicted of a crime. The jury at his first trial last summer found him guilty of lying to the FBI, though that panel deadlocked on all the other counts. That impasse set the stage for a retrial.

This time the verdict was unequivocal, with the jury of 11 women and one man finding Blagojevich guilty of wire fraud, attempted extortion, bribery and conspiracy. The marquee charge in the case involved an attempt by Blagojevich in late 2008 to cash in on his power to name a replacement in the U.S. Senate for Barack Obama, newly elected president.

At the prosecution's request, the judge imposed a travel restriction on Blagojevich, instructing him to not to leave northern Illinois.

Blagojevich, the fourth former Illinois governor convicted of felonies since 1973, likely faces a significant prison sentence.