CHICAGO (AP) — Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to order former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to serve his entire 14-year prison term when he returns to court for resentencing next month. But his attorneys want about nine years lopped off the sentence of the man they say has been a model prisoner who’s tutored, taught and counseled fellow inmates while also forming an Elvis-inspired rock band.
The motions filed late Monday are part of a legal battle between federal prosecutors and the former governor’s attorneys over the sentence imposed in 2011 by U.S. District Judge James Zagel after a jury convicted Blagojevich of 18 corruption counts, including attempting to sell the vacant U.S. Senate seat once occupied by President Barack Obama. In March, several months after a federal appeals court panel tossed five of 18 counts against Blagojevich, prosecutors said they would not retry him on those counts and requested that he return to Zagel’s courtroom for resentencing.
Neither motion was surprising, as prosecutors argued that Blagojevich has never taken responsibility for his crime and the defense reiterating a long held argument that the sentence was too long. But the 22-page defense motion does offer a glimpse into the life of a man who has not been seen or heard from since he reported to a Colorado federal prison in 2012.
Attorney Leonard Goodman writes that Blagojevich has been tutoring inmates studying for their GED, teaching history and providing job interview counseling for soon-to-be-released inmates. He talks almost daily to his family on the phone, quizzing his children to help them prepare for exams. Dozens of fellow inmates also have offered letters of support, including one prisoner who credits Blagojevich with helping him reconnect with his daughter. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Bob Barr, a former congressman from Georgia, were among those who submitted letters asking for leniency.
And in an effort to share in his youngest daughter’s interest in music, Blagojevich has studied guitar and vocals, according to Goodman. Well known for his love of all things Elvis Presley — his life-sized statue of Presley was auctioned off after he went to prison — Blagojevich formed with another inmate a band called “The Jailhouse Rockers.”
In its own 14-page filing at midnight Monday, the U.S. attorney’s office said that “nothing in the dismissal of the five counts undermines the need for a very significant sentence … to deter current and future public officials from engaging in similar criminal activity.”
They also said that Blagojevich has never taken responsibility for his crimes.
A defense memo asks Zagel to drastically reduce Blagojevich’s sentence to “in the neighborhood of” five years of incarceration accompanied by a period of supervised release. It cited, among other things, his model behavior in prison.
At the same time, Goodman revisits old unsuccessful arguments during Blagojevich’s trial, including the contention that Blagojevich was only seeking campaign contributions to “advance his political agenda” and not for personal gain.
Zagel is not expected to significantly reduce one of the longest corruption sentences ever imposed in Illinois. Even in its ruling last year, the appeals court did not hint that the sentence should be reduced. In fact, it indicated that even without the tossed convictions the 14-year sentence was appropriate. It also suggested that Zagel might have gone too easy on Blagojevich.
Letting the sentence stand or reducing it by just a few months would be another legal defeat for Blagojevich. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Blagojevich’s appeal on the remaining corruption convictions. Then in May, the same court, without comment, rejected his long-shot petition that urged the court to take another look at the case.
In June, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the bribery conviction of a former Virginia governor, Blagojevich’s attorney quickly said he did not expect that decision to affect Blagojevich’s case.
The resentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 9. If the judge lets the 14-year sentence stand, Blagojevich would have to serve 85 percent of it, meaning the earliest he could be eligible for release is early 2024.