ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Fourteen years in federal prison, that's the sentence given today to former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted of 18 corruption charges. A federal judge in Chicago handed down the sentence after Blagojevich himself addressed the court and pleaded for mercy.
NPR's David Schaper was there.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: It was a different Rod Blagojevich who stood before federal district court Judge James Zagel in his downtown Chicago courtroom today. Gone was the defiant bluster that has defined his fight against a wide range of corruption charges the last three years. Instead, there stood a solemn, contrite, apologetic Blagojevich.
I'm here convicted of crimes, Blagojevich told the judge. I'm accepting of it and I am unbelievably sorry for it. Blagojevich then said he never intended to cross the line into illegal activity, but he acknowledged that he did and that he takes responsibility for it. I was the governor and I should have known better, Blagojevich said. I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity.
Judge Zagel did give Blagojevich some credit for his apology, sentencing him to less prison time than the 15 to 20 years requested by prosecutors, but still giving the former Democratic governor more prison time than almost any other Illinois public official convicted of corruption before him: 14 years.
Afterwards, Blagojevich remained subdued as he briefly addressed the media.
ROD BLAGOJEVICH: This is a time to be strong. This is a time to fight through adversity. This is the time for me to be strong for my children, be strong for Patty, and this is also a time for Patty and me to get home so we can explain to our kids, our babies, Amy and Annie, what happened, what all this means and where we're going from here. So we're going to keep fighting on through this adversity and see you soon.
SCHAPER: Judge Zagel said Blagojevich's apology doesn't mitigate the seriousness of his crime. He was convicted of 18 counts of corruption charges, including fraud, conspiracy, bribery and extortion, for trying to auction off Illinois' Senate seat vacated by President Obama, among other schemes.
Judge Zagel made clear that he believed Blagojevich lied on the stand when he testified in his own defense and the judge expressed concern about the impact this corruption conviction has on the public trust, saying, quote, "when it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired." Because of that and Blagojevich's long and loud proclamations of his innocence and his defiance in and out of court, the apology was too little, too late.
JUSTICE JAMES ZAGEL: Today's sentence of 14 years on former governor Blagojevich sends a strong message that the public has had enough and judges have had enough. This needs to stop.
SCHAPER: Chicago's U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, notes that after Republican George Ryan, Democrat Blagojevich is the second former Illinois governor in five years to be convicted of corruption and given a lengthy prison sentence. And he says Illinois politicians need to know that the consequences of corruption are severe.
Though this sentence is much more severe than any of the four Illinois governors in the state's history to go to jail, it's not a surprise to many longtime observers of Illinois politics.
PAUL GREEN: He got what he deserved and it's sad.
SCHAPER: Political science professor Paul Green of Chicago's Roosevelt University says while it is a sad day for the Blagojevich family and for the state of Illinois, he doubts this sentence will be a deterrent and slow corruption in the state.
GREEN: No one who wants to commit a crime thinks they're going to get caught. I mean, that just sounds great and it's a great soundbite, but it doesn't really ring true. If that was true, we would – the list of Illinois governors getting in trouble would be a lot shorter.
SCHAPER: Rod Blagojevich will remain free for the holidays, but he must turn himself in to begin serving his prison sentence before February 16th. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.