CHICAGO — A federal jury Monday convicted Rod Blagojevich of sweeping corruption, putting an end to a tragicomic legal and political drama that brought down Illinois’ showy and would-be populist former governor.
The 11-woman, one-man jury convicted Blagojevich after 10 days of deliberations
of several shakedown attempts, including allegations that he brazenly tried to sell President Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat in 2008. The decisive verdict came less than a year after the first jury to hear the case found him guilty of only one criminal charge but deadlocked on the rest.
The new jury had no such reservations, finding Blagojevich guilty on 11 criminal counts related to the Senate seat and six additional counts involving fundraising shakedowns of a hospital executive and racetrack owner.
The verdict could lead to a lengthy prison term for Blagojevich, normally a hard-to-silence talking machine who defied legal convention after his arrest and kept a high media profile. But Monday, as he left court with his wife, Patti, Blagojevich was virtually tongue-tied.
“I frankly am stunned,” said Blagojevich, who was barred after the verdict from traveling outside northern Illinois without court permission. “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.”
The outcome of the retrial provides vindication for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who famously held a press conference after Blagojevich’s arrest to say investigators had stopped a “political corruption crime spree” and that the misconduct would make Abraham Lincoln roll over in his grave.
“This is a bittersweet moment,” said Fitzgerald, harkening back to the 2006 federal conviction of Blagojevich’s predecessor, George Ryan. “Five years ago another jury sent another message that corruption in Illinois is not tolerable. Gov. Blagojevich did not get that message.”
The implications of the verdict on Illinois’ scandal-plagued political system are less clear. Blagojevich once fancied himself presidential material, but even before his December 2008 arrest, his popularity with voters had dropped to record low levels and he found himself a pariah in his own Democratic Party. He was impeached and removed from office a couple of months after his arrest.
Coupled with the lone guilty count from last summer’s trial, Blagojevich has now been convicted of 18 counts of wire fraud, bribery, attempted extortion, conspiracy and lying to the FBI.
The new jury voted to find Blagojevich not guilty of one bribery count involving an alleged fundraising shakedown of a road-building executive. The panel also deadlocked on two other counts, one also involving the road builder and the other concerning an alleged 2006 fundraising shakedown of then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, now Chicago’s mayor.
In his first trial, Blagojevich declined to testify in his own defense but changed tactics for the retrial and took the stand for seven days. One juror said she found Blagojevich “personable” and said his likability complicated deliberations, but another said the panel found the testimony “manipulative” and that ultimately the testimony didn’t help him.
“I think our verdict shows we did not believe it,” she said.
Blagojevich at first had little visible reaction in court as the first guilty count was read, but then he sat back in his chair with his lips pursed and glanced toward his wife after the first three counts were all guilty.
He eventually mouthed the words “I love you” toward his wife, who was in the first row crying and leaning on her brother.