Blago’s 14-Year Sentence: Overkill

blagoBlago, 14 years?  Are you kidding?  George Ryan indirectly contributed to the death of six children, and he got 6-1/2 years.  With Blago, no money changed hands (granted, not for lack of trying) and nobody died.  14 years in prison – serving about 12 – is insanity.  Many politicians in Illinois who are bemoaning this “tragic” and “unfortunate” political train wreck now are probably keeping their fingers crossed that no tapes surface on them any time soon.

But Judge Zagel’s sentence for Blago, handed down today, of 14 years in prison was, as reported by guardian.co.uk, “one of the stiffest penalties imposed for corruption in a state with a history of crooked politics.”  And in a vacuum – in a locale where corruption isn’t the order of the day – Blago’s crimes look pretty damn bad.  A governor, caught on tape rambling out loud about the golden opportunity that awaits him if he can grab a cash payoff in return for his appointment of the payee to a much-coveted Senate seat.  But this is Illinois, and you can’t take that crime in a vacuum – because in the context of this state and the City of Chicago, what Blago did was more or less business as usual and, in fact, doesn’t even rise to the level of the craftiest crooked Illinois and Chicago politics. Pathetic, maybe; true, absolutely.

With this historically high sentence, the logical conclusion is that either Blago’s crimes rose to the level of the worst in Illinois political history, or he’s being made an example of.  And it appears to be the latter.  As U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald noted, post-sentencing: “If there is a public official out there who is thinking about committing a crime, they ought to be thinking twice . . . If a 14-year sentence doesn’t stop someone, I wouldn’t want to be sitting in front of a judge after that.”

When you look at Blago’s crimes, when you grade on the Illinois curve, Blago’s crimes don’t rise to the level of other crimes which carried far lighter sentences.  But maybe Blago wasn’t judged only for his crimes – maybe he was also judged on the benchmark of attitude.  He was arrogant, insisted on thumbing his nose at prosecutors and even his own attorneys when, early on, he did a round of media talk shows and appeared on Celebrity Apprentice, loudly proclaiming his innocence and challenging his foes to nail him. The prosecutors must have been rubbing their hands with glee.

But, with former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s conviction on 17 counts of corruption – including trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat – the count is now four out of the last 9 governors in Illinois who did, or are doing, a stint making license plates, or whatever it is convicts do in federal penitentiaries.  Maybe working on their golf games; who knows?

But what about the other three convicted Illinois governors, and their sentences?

  • Former Illinois Governor George Ryan was convicted of taking bribes that led to the death of six children in the license-for-money scandal – repeat, six kids dead – and he received a sentence of 6-1/2 years in prison.
  • Former Governor Otto Kerner, Jr., was convicted of accepting bribes and got three years; his downfall came about when one of his bribers deducted the value of the bribe on her federal income tax returns, believing that “bribery was an ordinary and necessary business expense in Illinois.”
  • Dan Walker, following his term as Illinois governor, was convicted of financial improprieties around a savings and loan; he got 7 years and did 18 months.

In a vacuum, Blago is the worst of the worst; but wrapped in the context of Illinois’ rich history of corruption and back-door deals, he’s barely a blip on the high crimes and misdemeanors radar.

Blago’s childrens’ lives have been irretrievably altered, his family is for all intents and purposes wrecked, he’ll never practice law again, he’s going down in flames.  Yes, Former Governor Rod Blagojevich is guilty as sin, his conviction was just and he should do time – but not more time than your average violent criminal in Illinois.

julie driscoll

Said Judge Zagel at the sentencing:  ”The fabric of Illinois is torn, disfigured and not easily repaired. You did that damage.”  The fabric of Illinois was in tatters long before Blago appeared on the scene, long before he was caught on tape, long before he got fired from Celebrity Apprentice.  The fabric of Illinois is more like a web.

Blago is a low-risk repeat criminal.  His crime was non-violent.  I get it:  Illinois wants to sweep its streets clean of corruption, and here comes Blago, hanging out there with his goofy antics and his cocky demeanor and his obvious guilt.  Blago was following a long pattern of pay-to-play in Illinois, the cost of doing political business in this state, and it cost him 14 years of his life.

Should have been half that.

Julie Driscoll
Politics Anonymous 

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Comments

  1. Pat Hamer says

    “Political Activists” should at least form a “rational or legal basis” worthy of publishing. This type of journalism is prevalent and it amazes me that the public responds with one or two sentences thumb up or down, missing the fallacies, if any, because the rules of rhetoric have no role in American public scrutiny.

    First of all, nobody ever discusses a basis for corruption that officials are “instructed” by their legal tax funded corporate counsels to tread into the grey area of corruption. An example of this results in the correction and preening of a loophole that makes corruption a constitutionally protected right to be free from law suits and discovery due process, that private citizens are barred from. This was actually expressed when horror hit corporate counsel attorneys for the City of Maui, when they were affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Appellate court upholding Bogan v. Scott-Harris S. Ct. 1998, that only official decisions affecting a “wide range” or citizens, falls under immunity. I am referring to the 11th amendment immunity that Bogan states, “we will not tolerate a citizen redressing a grievance from corrupt officials,” thus nullifying the First Amendment without congressional ratification. The 11th amendment was ratified in 1795. This was strengthened in 2011 by the S. Ct. rejecting Cert, from Norse v. Santa Cruz who upheld Kaahumanu v. City of Maui, and the simplicity of abrogating immunity! Since 1795 after the ratification of the 11th amendment, illogically, U.S. citizens run around like idiots proclaiming freedom from tyranny, in spite of the Declaration of Independence proclaiming cause of action of “judicial tyranny” or “mock trials” based upon a “right inestimable and formidable to tyrants only.” We know in 1776 that this cause of action was settled in revolution. But no one, other than a few astute constitutionalists have noted the basis for the 11th amendment and the significance of the author of Chisholm v. Georgia that inspired the amendment to reverse the Supreme Court for upholding the Revolutions major cause of action. Few know that history teaches that the 11th amendment reinstated the removal of a “sovereign” free people to be placed back under “sovereign despotism” cloaked as “civil service.” There is NO DIFFERENCE other than civil servants can’t publically wear crowns and hold scepters.

    So Blago has pushed a bit to far and has offended those same officials who otherwise would defend him. Occasionally our officials need a scapegoat to throw to the masses, a sort of Barabbas, so to speak. Regardless of the term of sentence, the red herring is that now, citizens will take pride out of the emotion of the German concept of “schadenfrued” an emotion of a form of envy that takes joy in the demise of others who fail. This makes a more logical legal basis for punishment accepted and illogically substituted by the joy of seeing an official punished. Citizen need to understand that corruption is protected from civil suits, and 10’s of thousands of Blago type crimes are dismissed in federal courts, not due to lack of evidence, but because the 11th amendment says “so what, even if the plaintiff’s allegations of abuse of power or corruption are true, the defendant has a constitutional right to be free from legal action.” Most citizens would not agree with this, but the issue is removed from any educational system outside of law school. The defense for this is that “holding officials accountable for corruption” would “over-deter” intelligent citizens from wanting to subject themselves to answer for corruption allegations.” The judicial system feels that there should be no risk for civil servants. However, this violates Constitutional equal protection of citizens by making the same citizens who provide “services” or goods, take risk. Anybody with common sense, would realize that if this secret got out, no one in their right mind would want to go into private business, when they could pursue careers in public service and make profit by “abuse of power” that is barred from civil liability. In fact, would be criminals or sociopaths can actually appear to walk the straight and narrow in civil service, and get away with crime, including murder. There are cases where juries have overtly been rigged to acquit deputies or even elected Sheriff’s from shooting unarmed men in the face, while they were in the back of a police car unarmed. It is no wonder that very few are aware of the immunity issue, and it is after all, the very First Amendment after the Bill of rights was created by the colonists. The fact that the 11th amendment can be construed as a red herring, but only explained deep within antiquated Supreme Court decisions that require a paucity of research. Nevertheless, the average Citizen cannot grasp the simplicity of this silent bloodless coup on the Constitution in 1795! The First Amendment made by an independent congress is called the 11th amendment, and congress basically set aside any hope for “redress of grievance” by making the cause of grievance a constitutionally protected right only enjoyed by public servants.

    I would hope that our country execute people like Blago, as they are no different than a Tim Mcvee, or other traitor. Legal community members can all aspire to this defense if they decide to “abuse power.” Judges have removed themselves from 18 USC 242, criminal abuse of power by changing the word power to “discretion.” Like magice, judges can violate 18 USC 242 at will in any court case and not suffer any consequences. Blago’s destroy many individuals for years of futile redress who are ignored by the first amendment. Yet the amendment is a so called right? Try using it! Because McVees, acts are so overtly brutal, the obvious outcry is execution. But abuse of power is so prevalent, and there is an amendment that gives corruption a legal basis to exist and even cultivate and nurture from the municipalities all the way the congress and the White House. It is destroying way more lives than 911 or Oklahoma Bombing! Not to be insensitive to these horrible incidences, individual abuse of power victims are often stigmatized and jailed for contempt for objecting and succumbing to the “intentional emotional destress” that is created against plaintiffs simply by exercising the First Amendment. Know one knows this other than plaintiffs.

    People are blaming “wall street” another schadenfrued knee jerk reaction. The protest is not abuse of power, but “we want more.” The obstacle is the Eleventh Amendment! The Jews were the wall street in Germany and protest was misguided and resulted in genocide. Wall Street and our government is operating within the Constraints of the 11th amendment. Until you deal with the 11th amendment, you cut your nose to spite your face!

  2. John says

    I agree with Julie; Chicago politics did not just get bad; the sentence was stiff. I think he was penalized more for his associations; than his crimes.

  3. Jan Smithq says

    I grew up in Chicago, and I think this is a sensible sentence. Blagojevich was trying to sell A SEAT IN THE UNITED STATES SENATE. We NEED to prosecute and convict corrupt politicians.

    I figure if this is the standard, Bush and Cheney ought to get about four consecutive life sentences for war crimes, corruption, and falsifying evidence to Congress.

  4. Hugh says

    The punishment does fit the crime. The other examples were not punished hard enough. The author seems to forget that the guilty party was a governor, elected to a position of trust who is the state’s highest law enforcement officer. When a person holds a position of public trust and breaks that trust then their punishment must be harsher. Not just for the crime but for the failure to uphold their oath of office. Is his family destroyed, yes. Because of his choice. And lets not forget that not only did he fail to uphold his oath he bragged about being “innocent” and was never remorseful assuming that because he had held a post of power he would not be held accountable. No, this was not a punishment that was a sign to others to not do the same but was a punishment that fit the crime.

    • Pat Hamer says

      It was more a sign for officials to be more careful and cover evidence. The Supreme Court has suggested this last summer. 18 USC 1346 “intangible honest services” was putting many governors in prison, also judges and other officials for denying “honest services” in retaliation to constituents who oppose them publically. That is the typical case…retaliation by abuse of power, or vindictive animus.

      Scalia attempted to gut the law, stating that investigators were to incompetent to parse the difference, for instance, that “an official dropping a kid off to school in a state car, would suffer criminal charges from abuse of power.” This is ridiculous over-reaching by the justice, but the trend is to remove any risk for engaging in public service. Nobody should be allowed to have this “absolute power.” It is no within the character of our constitution or the thesis. It is however, the sole difference in a dictatorship…”absolute power.”

      Ginsburg stepped in with “well I don’t want to gut it, so let’s make a requirement of a bribe be evident” to secure a conviction.” This means that as long as you hide the bribe, or just act out of loyalty, you can abuse the same power a bribe would take. For instance, you can fix felony crimes committed by your family or friends, or deny enemies permits or services based upon vindictive animus or prejudice, as long as there is no presence of a bribe.

      Corruption has not deterrence generally. Civil litigation is the only avenue to complain against officials and it is barred. There are a few web sites by the FBI that allow you to fill in a form and submit them, but that is informal and no case number is assigned, thus there is no legal jurisdiction or discretion that is measurable. Basically public service is free from self policing. The only cases are the overt idiots like Blago who embarrass other crooks in office.

  5. says

    i agree. This is cruel to his children, and his crime does not rise at all to the level of the Wall Street criminals, those who started and enabled the attack on Iraq, which cost us billions and cost millions their lives and property. We won’t even try them! This guy is a fool, and a crooked politician, but somebody do something to bring him home to his children much sooner than this. I actually feel sorry for him, dumb and crooked as he is.

    • RonF says

      Blago was cruel to his children for exposing them to this risk. This crime rises well above anything done on Wall Street. Consider that the Wall Street financiers could not have bought if men and women like Blago hadn’t put the public up for sale. People like Blago could have simply let the Wall Street folks take their losses. But instead they sold the country out for votes and power. You will never solve the issue of the wealthy’s influence over government until you make the penalty for selling us out equal or even surpassing what Blago got.

      Understand that I have been a taxpayer in Illinois for almost 40 years. Blago and those of his ilk have collectively stolen more money from people like me than Wall Street ever has. They’ve placed people in thrall to dependence on the State, destroyed educational systems and ruined public infrastructures. They crank taxes up and then give tax breaks to cronies and big business for political support and private profit. How do you supposed that these people are all rich?

      Blago deserves every minute he’s going to serve. The next one should get more.

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