Blagojevich is convicted on 1 count, faces retrial on 23 others


CHICAGO — As Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich was a personal and political riddle, and the muddled end Tuesday to his
summer-long federal corruption trial did little to clear up the mystery.

After 14 days of deliberations, the six-man,
six-woman jury convicted Blagojevich on just one of the 24 felony
counts he faced — a charge that he had lied to FBI agents about his intense involvement in campaign fundraising.

Prosecutors made it clear they intend to retry
Blagojevich on the 23 counts on which the jury deadlocked — perhaps
sooner rather than later.

Jury foreman James Matsumoto of Chicago
said the panel was close to convicting the former governor on other
counts — hung up 11-1 in some instances — but were not close to
acquitting him on any counts. They actually had agreed to convict him
of a second count last week — a count of attempted extortion — but one
juror backed away from that choice at the last moment, the foreman said.

The counts on which the jury could not agree framed
the heart of the government claims that Blagojevich schemed to profit
from his post from his earliest days in office and in 2008 attempted to
auction off the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. A lone holdout, a female retiree from the suburbs, blocked conviction of Blagojevich on the Senate seat allegation, another juror said.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel declared a mistrial on the 23 counts the jury could not reach a verdict
on, including sweeping racketeering and conspiracy counts that accused
him of running the state as a criminal enterprise.

Still, the lone conviction makes Democrat Blagojevich the second former Illinois governor in four years to be convicted in federal court of wrongdoing and the fourth since 1973.

The jury also was unable to come to any unanimous
decision on four counts faced by Blagojevich’s brother, Robert, who ran
the governor’s campaign fund for four months in 2008.

Blagojevich immediately portrayed himself as a victim as he lashed out at prosecutors, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in particular.

“I didn’t break any laws, I didn’t do anything
wrong,” Blagojevich said. “This particular prosecutor did everything he
could to target me and prosecute me, persecute me, put pressure on my
family, try to take our home, take me from my kids, arrest me.”

Without hesitation, prosecutors declared their intention to retry him. Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said they could “be here tomorrow” to set a date.

Rather than lay low in the face of having to try the case again, Blagojevich’s lawyers heaped scorn on Fitzgerald as well.

“This guy Fitzgerald is a master at indicting people for noncriminal activity,” Sam Adam Sr. roared as he left the courthouse. “This guy is nuts.”

As the verdict was about to be announced, Zagel
asked the jury foreman, Matsumoto, if it was correct that the panel was
able to agree unanimously on only one count. After Matsumoto said that
was the case, the judge’s deputy read that Blagojevich had been
convicted of only the last count in the indictment.

Still, Blagojevich pursed his lips and shook his
head slightly, stealing a glance at his wife, Patti, who stared
straight ahead, breathing heavily. The single count carries a maximum
penalty of five years in prison, though Blagojevich likely doesn’t face
sentencing until after a retrial.

After learning of the conviction, Patti Blagojevich briefly doubled over, resting her head on the chair in front of her and
shaking her head “no” several times. After the jury left, she collapsed
back into her seat.

In an interview at his Northwest Side home Tuesday
night, Matsumoto said he suspected early in the deliberations that the
panel would have difficulty coming to an agreement, though they
eventually did take a number of votes that were 11-1.

The foreman said the jury became exhausted listening
to the undercover recordings of Blagojevich with holdouts unable to
find “a smoking gun” that would satisfy them that he should be
convicted. Matsumoto wasn’t bothered by that problem, saying “logical
inference” led him to conclude that Blagojevich was guilty of trying to
peddle the Senate seat.

He pointed to government wiretaps that captured
Blagojevich talking to advisers about how to parlay an appointment of
Obama friend Valerie Jarrett into a Cabinet appointment or ambassadorship for himself, among other possibilities.

“If (Blagojevich) says, ‘If they give me secretary of HHS, I’ll make Valerie Jarrett a senator in a heartbeat,’ you don’t need anything else,” Matsumoto said.

Matsumoto said the jury wasn’t bothered by the fact
that Blagojevich didn’t take the stand, the differing styles of the
lawyers in the case or all the swearing on recordings of Blagojevich
and other players in the case. The profanity was no problem for the
three jurors who were military veterans, said Matsumoto, himself a
former U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam.

Lawyers in the case are to be back in court Aug. 26,
possibly to pick a retrial date. Prosecutors are expected to push for
the case to be back before a jury this fall, while the defense is
likely to drag its heels and promised to appeal the single count the
former governor was convicted on.

While gaining a conviction of the former governor on
one count, the end result of the trial was a far cry from the sweeping
convictions in public corruption cases that Fitzgerald and his
prosecutors have grown accustomed to. In his nine years at the helm of
the prosecutor’s office here, Fitzgerald has secured guilty verdicts
for an array of public officials, ranging from aldermen to the
patronage chief for Mayor Richard Daley to Blagojevich’s predecessor as governor, Republican George Ryan.

The government case against Blagojevich was a vivid
example of how slowly the wheels of justice can grind in public
corruption cases. Blagojevich was arrested just weeks after he
allegedly began plotting to sell Obama’s Senate seat, but
federal agents had been probing wrongdoing in the governor’s
administration since at least 2004 — his second year in office — and
questioned Blagojevich for the first time in 2005 during his first term.

False statements made during that interview led to the single count of which Blagojevich was convicted Tuesday.

Blagojevich’s upbeat campaign-style demeanor during
the trial didn’t change even after the verdict as Blagojevich slapped
backs and gave high-fives to well-wishers on the way out of the


(c) 2010, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.