Operation Board Games : Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich convicted on charges including wire fraud and extortion loses bid to cut prison term

Rod BlagojevichRod Blagojevich

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich lost his latest 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 US Senate seat.

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago dismissed arguments that Blagojevich deserved a lesser punishment because he had been a “model prisoner” in the five years he has already spent in prison and because some counts in his original 2011 conviction had been thrown out.

Blagojevich, 60, was convicted on charges including wire fraud, extortion and soliciting bribes while governor. He served from January 2003 to January 2009, when the Illinois Senate removed him from office.

Prosecutors said Blagojevich solicited campaign contributions in exchange for raising pediatric reimbursement rates and legislation supporting Illinois’ horse racing industry.

Blagojevich also tried to sell or trade the Senate seat that Obama vacated after winning the 2008 US presidential election, prosecutors said.

In addition to the allegations concerning the Senate seat, Blagojevich has also been charged with :

– attempting to extort the owners of the Tribune Company to fire editors at the Chicago Tribune who criticized the governor’s handling of state affairs.
– abuse of power concerning release of US$8 million of state funds to Children’s Memorial Hospital expecting to obtain a $50,000 campaign contribution.
– seeking graft in the form of $2.5 million in campaign contributions (through 2008) from companies and individuals who have received state contracts or appointments.

The appeals court in 2015 voided five of Blagojevich’s 18 convictions and ordered a resentencing, but On August 9, 2016, U.S. District Judge James Zagel ruled that despite the four dropped charges, reports of good behavior, and pleas for leniency, Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence would stand. In making his decision, Zagel noted that “these are serious crimes that had an impact on the people of Illinois.” and it’s “an unfortunate reality” that Blagojevich’s family members are made to suffer consequences. Patti Blagojevich commented on the sentence, calling it “unusually cruel and heartless and unfair.”

Blagojevich is housed in a low-security prison in Littleton, Colorado, and eligible for release in May 2024.

Operation Board Games

Rod Blagojevich had been under investigation for corrupt activity for several years, as part of a broader federal investigation by Fitzgerald, code-named Operation Board Games, that had been going on for three years. To date, 15 people have been charged in connection with the investigation. Blagojevich had long been suspected to be a target of the investigation, but it was confirmed by US District Judge Amy St. Eve that he was the “Public Official A” referred to in the federal indictment of Tony Rezko.

Just before the 2008 United States general elections on November 4, 2008, Federal investigators were granted authority to tape Blagojevich’s conversations.

Rod Blagojevich and his Chief of Staff John Harris were arrested at their homes at 6:15 a.m. on December 9, 2008 by deputies of the United States Marshals Service on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Blagojevich and Harris were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of soliciting bribes. The case involved sweeping pay to play and influence peddling allegations, including the alleged solicitation of personal benefit in exchange for an appointment to the United States Senate as a replacement for Barack Obama, who had resigned after being elected President of the United States. United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald noted that there had been no evidence of wrongdoing by Obama. The cases are part of a broader federal investigation by Fitzgerald code-named Operation Board Games that had been going on for three years in which 15 people have been charged.

 

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