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Blagojevich convicted on one count

The jury in the former Illinois governor's corruption trial finds him guilty of lying to federal agents, but fails to reach verdicts on the 23 remaining counts. Prosecutors say they'll retry the case.

August 18, 2010|Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — — A federal jury convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich on Tuesday of just one of the 24 corruption counts against him and deadlocked on the other 23 — including whether he tried to sell the Senate seat formerly occupied by President Obama.

The single conviction came on one of the least serious charges, lying to federal agents, which carries a maximum of five years in prison. He could have faced up to 20 years on some of the more serious charges, such as racketeering.

The jury also deadlocked on the four counts against Blagojevich's brother, Robert. Prosecutors said they would retry both of them.

"It is absolutely our intent to retry this," Assistant U.S. Atty. Reid J. Schar said. "We could be here tomorrow."

But a defiant Blagojevich insisted he was innocent and vowed to appeal the conviction.

"The government threw everything but the kitchen sink at me, and on every charge but one they could not prove that I broke any laws except one, a nebulous charge from five years ago," he told a crush of reporters. "I did not lie to the FBI. I told the truth from the very beginning."

Blagojevich, a Democrat who was impeached and removed from office in early 2009, had been accused of leading a wide-ranging plot to shake down state contractors and other politicians.

The count on which Blagojevich was convicted included accusations that he had lied to federal agents when he said he did not track campaign contributions and kept a "firewall" between political campaigns and government work.

The judge did not say how the jury was leaning on the unresolved counts. But the Associated Press reported that the jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of conviction on the one involving Obama's Senate seat.

The verdict came on the 14th day of deliberations, ending an 11-week trial during which a foul-mouthed Blagojevich was heard on secret FBI wiretap tapes saying the power to name a senator was "[expletive] golden" and that he wasn't going to give it up "for [expletive] nothing."

As the jury's verdict was read, the former governor pursed his lips and shook his head slightly. His wife, Patti, rested her head on the chair in front of her and shook her head several times.

As jurors filed out, Patti Blagojevich collapsed into her seat, and the former governor's attorney, Sam Adam Jr., moved next to Blagojevich and put his arm around him, rubbing his back.

Declaring a mistrial on the 23 counts, U.S. District Judge James Zagel gave the prosecution until Aug. 26 to formally announce plans to retry Blagojevich and his brother.

U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald and Robert Grant, head of the FBI in Chicago, were in the courtroom for the announcement.

The verdict was announced shortly before 4:30 p.m.

Blagojevich and his wife had arrived at the courthouse about 45 minutes earlier.

"God bless you, God bless you, I didn't let you down," he said as he greeted admirers. He shook hands and high-fived spectators before entering the courtroom.

"Say a prayer for us," he said.

Last week, the jury told the judge it had reached agreement on two counts. It was unclear why, in the end, they were unanimous on only one. Jurors did not speak to the media after the verdict.

The jury's decisions denied Blagojevich the sweeping exoneration he has insisted would come since his 2008 arrest.

The outcome also represents a stunning and rare setback for Fitzgerald. In his nine years in the post, Fitzgerald has secured a nearly unbroken string of high-profile corruption convictions of public officials, including former Gov. George Ryan, who is serving a 6 1/2-year sentence on his 2006 racketeering conviction.

Earlier in the day, the jury sent a note indicating it might be almost done.

In it, jurors asked for two things: a copy of the oath they took when they were sent to deliberate; and instructions from the judge on how to fill out a verdict form when they couldn't agree on a specific count.

"Do we leave it blank or report the vote split?" the note asked.

Zagel agreed to send a copy of the oath to jurors and said he would instruct them to write on top of the verdict form if they could reach a consensus on a count.

Although Blagojevich's ultimate fate remains undecided, the legal proceedings have left him deeply in debt. A retrial is likely to worsen his predicament.

His political career is in shambles and he is barred by the Illinois Constitution from attempting to revive it. Because of his impeachment and ouster, he cannot ever hold state public office.

It is the fourth time since 1973 — and the second time in four years — that a onetime Illinois governor has been convicted of wrongdoing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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