Rod Blagojevich, a former Illinois governor, on Friday lost his bid for leniency as a federal appeals court refused to shorten his 14-year prison term in a vast public corruption case, including an effort to sell Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago rejected arguments by Blagojevich, who has already served more than five years in prison, that a lesser punishment was justified because he had been a “model prisoner,” and because some counts in his original conviction had been thrown out.
Leonard Goodman, a lawyer for Blagojevich, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The office of acting U.S. Attorney Joel Levin in Chicago declined to comment.
Blagojevich, 60, was convicted in 2011 on charges including wire fraud, extortion and soliciting bribes while governor, a job he held from January 2003 to January 2009, when Illinois’ Senate impeached him and removed him from office.
Prosecutors said Blagojevich’s scheme included soliciting campaign contributions in exchange for raising reimbursement rates for pediatric specialists and legislation to support Illinois’ horse racing industry.
The scheme also included Blagojevich’s effort to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat that Obama, also a Democrat, vacated after winning the 2008 U.S. presidential election, prosecutors said.
In 2015, the appeals court voided five of Blagojevich’s 18 convictions and ordered his resentencing.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel in Chicago nonetheless reimposed the 14-year term last August, acknowledging the pain for Blagojevich’s family but saying “the fault lies with the governor.”
In Friday’s 3-0 decision, Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook said Zagel had discretion to leave the sentence alone, and because it fell within recommended federal guidelines did not need to address Blagojevich’s argument that it was too long relative to other public corruption sentences.
Easterbrook also said the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2016 voiding of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s bribery convictions because of improper jury instructions on the meaning of “official acts” did not undermine Blagojevich’s conviction.
Blagojevich “has never contended that the activities of appointing someone to a vacant seat in the Senate, signing legislation, or the other activities that a jury found he sought to profit from, were not ‘official acts’ of a state’s governor,” Easterbrook wrote.
Blagojevich is housed in a low-security prison in Littleton, Colorado, and eligible for release in May 2024.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)