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Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) received a 14-year prison sentence today for his scheme to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by now-President Barack Obama.
Before the sentence was read during the second day of a two-day sentencing hearing, Blagojevich told the judge that he is “unbelievably sorry” for his crimes, which he now calls “terrible mistakes,” according to an Associated Press report.
The sentence was a victory for prosecutors, who had asked that Blagojevich get 15 to 20 years in prison for his role in the corruption scheme. The former governor’s legal team had pleaded for leniency.
“He asked for a job in return [for Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat]. That’s all he did at first. We accept that that’s a crime,” Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky told a CNN affiliate. “He did it and he should not have done it [but] that crime does not call for a 15-year jail sentence.”
Blagojevich, who will turn 55 this month, will report to the Bureau of Prisons on Feb. 16 to begin serving his sentence.
“When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn, disfigured and not easily repaired ... the harm here is not measured in the value of money or property ... the harm is the erosion of public trust in government,” said U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who presided over both of Blagojevich’s corruption trials and handed down his sentence Wednesday.
The fallout from Blagojevich’s plot continues to plague Illinois lawmakers. The House Ethics Committee announced last week that it would continue reviewing allegations that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) offered to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for being appointed to the vacant Senate seat, which eventually went to Sen. Roland Burris, who did not run for a full term in 2010.
The committee’s investigation of Jackson, which began with a referral from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, stalled as the Justice Department built its case against Blagojevich, whom a jury convicted of 17 of 20 corruption charges in June. At a trial the prior summer, another jury convicted Blagojevich of lying to federal agents but remained deadlocked on the other counts.
In addition to his 14-year sentence for 18 total felony counts of corruption, including wire fraud, attempted extortion and soliciting bribes, Blagojevich will pay a $20,000 fine and spend two years in supervised release after leaving prison.
“The sentence handed down today represents a repayment of the debt that Blagojevich owes to the people of Illinois. While promising an open and honest administration, in reality, the former governor oversaw a comprehensive assault on the public’s trust,” FBI Special Agent Robert D. Grant said in a statement.
The government’s prosecution of Blagojevich is part of a larger public corruption probe known as Operation Board Games, which has investigated pay-to-play schemes since 2003 and has led to 15 convictions, according to the Department of Justice.
Blagojevich is the second consecutive Illinois governor that will spend time in prison for his role in a corruption scheme. Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R) is currently serving 6 and a half years at a federal prison in Indiana.