Jury Finds Blagojevich Guilty of Corruption
By MONICA DAVEY and EMMA G. FITZSIMMONS
Published: June 27, 2011
CHICAGO — A jury on Monday convicted Rod R. Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, of a broad pattern of corruption, including charges that he tried to personally benefit from his role in selecting a replacement for President Obama in the United States Senate.
Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat who former aides say once envisioned himself as a future presidential contender, was found guilty of most of the 20 federal counts against him: 17 counts of wire fraud, attempted extortion, soliciting bribes, conspiracy to commit extortion and conspiracy to solicit and accept bribes.
As the verdicts were read aloud in court, one “guilty” following another, Mr. Blagojevich, who has always proclaimed his innocence, turned, his jaw clenched grimly, to look at his wife, Patti, in the front row. By then, she was already slumped back in the arms of a relative, eyes closed, wiping away tears.
The verdict appeared to be the conclusion, at last, to the spectacle of Mr. Blagojevich’s political career, which began its spiraling descent shortly after Mr. Obama was elected president in November 2008. A month after Election Day, Mr. Blagojevich, who was in his second term as governor and under state law was required to name a senator to replace Mr. Obama, was arrested, and federal agents revealed that they had secretly recorded hundreds of hours of damaging phone calls by him and his advisers.
Mr. Blagojevich, a lawyer and former state and federal lawmaker, was accused of trying to secure campaign contributions, a cabinet post or a high-paying job in exchange for his official acts as governor — whether that was picking a senator, supporting particular legislation or deciding how to spend state money. Mr. Blagojevich was acquitted on one charge of bribery, and the jury deadlocked on two counts of attempted extortion, but convictions came on the bulk of the counts and on those related to the Senate seat — the claims that had drawn international headlines.
The outcome came as a victory for federal prosecutors, whose earlier trial resulted in a deadlocked jury on most counts and led people to wonder whether Mr. Blagojevich’s behavior would ultimately be deemed crass political deal-making or a lot of wishful, blustery talk, but not rise to the level of crimes.
Issuing their verdicts on the 10th day of deliberations, jurors said the accusations related to selling the Senate seat had been the clearest and easiest to resolve, in part because of the audio recordings of Mr. Blagojevich’s telephone calls. In the end, the jurors — 11 women and 1 man, all of whom declined to provide their names to reporters — said they believed they had sent a loud signal to corrupt Illinois politicians, past and future.
“There’s a lot of bargaining that goes on behind the scenes — we do that in our everyday lives, in business and everything,” said the jury forewoman, a retired church employee from the Chicago suburbs. “But I think in the instances when it is someone representing the people, it crosses the line. And I think we sent a pretty clear message on that.”
And she had her own conclusion about the unseemly political world she had seen close-up through about six weeks of testimony: “I told my husband that if he was running for politics, he would probably have to find a new wife.”
For Democrats here, in a state government they almost entirely control, the final chapter could not come soon enough. By turns, Illinois residents had been mortified by the saga, amused by its circuslike antics and, most recently, weary of the whole thing.
Mr. Blagojevich’s impeachment, removal from office and evolution into a punch line on late-night television threatened the Democratic Party’s political hold on the state, created an outcry to overhaul lax state campaign finance and public records laws, and led to added scrutiny of some of this city’s best-known politicians, including Mr. Obama, Rahm Emanuel (the president’s former chief of staff and now Chicago’s mayor) and Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr.
The scandal also reaffirmed an image that Illinois has long wished to shed: Mr. Blagojevich appears likely to be the fourth governor in recent memory to be imprisoned (one for acts committed after leaving office).
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