Jury finds Blagojevich guilty on 17 of 20 counts

June 27, 2011

By Rob Wildeboer and Sam Hudzik

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The jury found Rod Blagojevich guilty on 17 of the 20 counts in his corruption retrial.

Blagojevich 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. Blagojevich was found not guilty on one count of solicitation of a bribe pertaining to his tollway plan.

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Timeline

Audio: The jury answers questions

Juror Q&A Audio.mp3

The Charges and reaction

 ChargeSubjectGuiltyNot GuiltyNo Verdict
1.Wire fraudChildren's MemorialX  
2.Wire fraudSenate SeatX  
3.Wire fraudSenate SeatX  
4.Wire fraudSenate SeatX  
5.Wire fraudSenate SeatX  
6.Wire fraudSenate SeatX  
7.Wire fraudSenate SeatX  
8.Wire fraudSenate SeatX  
9.Wire fraudRacetrackX  
10.Wire fraudSenate SeatX  
11.Attempted ExtortionSchool  X
12.Attempted ExtortionChildren's MemorialX  
13.Solicitation of a bribeChildren's MemorialX  
14.Extortion conspiracyRacetrack billX  
15.Conspiracy to solicit a bribeRacetrack billX  
16.Attempted ExtortionTollway plan  X
17.Solicitation of bribeTollway plan X 
18.Extortion conspiracySenate seatX  
19.Attempted extortionSenate seatX  
20.Conspiracy to solicit a bribeSenate seatX  

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald calls Blagojevich's conviction "a bittersweet moment." The top federal prosecutor in Chicago says it is sad to again be dealing with a verdict against a former Illinois governor – just five years after Gov. George Ryan was convicted on corruption charges.

Blagojevich arrived at his Chicago home Monday afternoon after a jury found him guilty of 17 of 20 charges in his corruption trial. He told reporters that people might think he "let them down." Blagojevich says he didn't do that and he "fought real hard" for the people.

Judge James Zagel told Blagojevich that he can't travel outside northern Illinois without permission.

Jurors who convicted Blagojevich on 17 corruption charges said they did not buy the ex-Illinois governor's argument that his scheming was just talk.

Jurors said the charges that were were most clear cut had wire tapped phone calls as evidence.

“There were several times where he said, you know, do it, push that, get that done,” said one juror. “I think that's where he crossed the line of just floating the idea and actually doing it.”

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. But for every count federal prosecutors told jurors that they had to answer just one question: Did Blagojevich try to get a benefit for himself in exchange for an official act?  If the answer is yes, then prosecutors said jurors should convict.

Prosecutors presented three weeks of evidence playing tapes and presenting witnesses to show that Blagojevich was holding up legislation until the potential beneficiaries of that legislation gave campaign contributions.  Many of the tapes played focus on the marquee allegation that Blagojevich tried to sell the U.S. senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he won the presidency in 2008.  Jurors heard lots of tapes in which Blagojevich is devising ways to get appointed to Obama’s cabinet, or get a high paying job in return for appointing Obama’s preferred candidate, his friend Valerie Jarrett, to the senate.

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 Blagojevich much in exchange for getting 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!”

But Blagojevich got a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of jurors when he testified.  He spent seven days on the stand talking about his childhood and his rise to power.  He was charming and funny.  He also provided some reasonable counter explanations for some of the conversations he had on the recorded phone calls. But he had trouble explaining some of the tapes, including a secretly recorded call on November 7, 2008 in which Blagojevich is talking about appointing Jarrett to the senate and getting a position in Obama’s cabinet.  He 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."

Blagojevich simply insisted to jurors that he was not trying to trade one for the other.  He says they were not connected.  However, Blagojevich talked to Tom Balanoff about the senate appointment. Balanoff was a union official who was carrying messages between the Obama and Blagojevich camps.  Blagojevich admitted that he discussed both appointing Jarrett to the senate and his own desire to be appointed secretary of Health and Human Services in the same conversation.

Blagojevich’s testimony as well as appearances by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and former Congressman Bill Lipinski kept the retrial interesting.

Emanuel’s four minutes on the stand had little impact, but Jackson, who was called by the defense, actually gave testimony that helped the prosecution.  He said that Blagojevich 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 says Blagojevich referred to the job and then said, “You should have given me that $25,000.”

Defense attorneys later called Lipinski to rebut the testimony of their own witness, Jackson.  Lipinski testified that he never asked Jackson to donate $25,000 to Blagojevich.  But under cross examination, prosecutors presented Lipinski with records of fundraising he had done for Blagojevich and Lipinski. He admitted that he had forgotten about a lot of the fundraising he did for Blagojevich, fundraising that is proven by state records.

Prosecutors presented a simplified version of their case this time around.  They dropped several of the more complex charges against Blagojevich and they decided not to retry Blagojevich’s brother Robert.  Jurors in the first trial said they found the case confusing and they failed to return verdicts on 23 of the 24 counts.  However, they did convict Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.  In an interview the former governor said he didn’t track who gave him campaign contributions, but several employees of his campaign fund testified convincingly that Blagojevich knew the details of his fundraising better than anyone.  That charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prisons.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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