US & Canada

Rod Blagojevich sentenced to 14 years in prison

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Media captionRod Blagojevich: "This is a time to fight through adversity''

Disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption.

He was found guilty in June of 17 counts of graft, including trying to sell the US Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.

At the sentencing in Chicago, he said he was "unbelievably sorry" and had made "terrible mistakes".

Prosecutors had requested a maximum sentence of 20 years, saying the 54-year-old knew he was breaking the law.

The former two-term Democratic governor has been ordered pay a $20,000 (£13,000) fine as part of his sentence, and will report to prison on 16 February 2012.

Correspondents say it is likely that Blagojevich will serve his sentence in a prison outside Illinois. He will be required to undertake eight hours a day of menial labour for 12 cents an hour and share a cell with other inmates. Family visits will be limited.

Blagojevich was arrested in December 2008 while still in office. His Republican predecessor as governor was also jailed for corruption.

He has been handed the harshest sentence of any of the four former governors of Illinois who have been sent to prison during the last four decades, the Associated Press reports.

'Life ruined'

In court, Blagojevich sat hunched forward with a blank expression as the sentence was read on Wednesday.

Afterwards, he brushed away tears from his wife's cheeks as he held her in the courtroom.

Pleading for leniency before sentencing, Blagojevich told Judge James Zagel he thought what he had been doing was "permissible".

Acknowledging his mistake, Blagojevich said he "never set out to break the law".

"My life is ruined, at least now," he said. "My political career is over. I can't be a lawyer anymore. We can't afford the home we live in; we're trying to sell it.

Image caption Antoin Rezko (centre), convicted on corruption charges, was a fundraiser for Rod Blagojevich

"I realise that the things I thought were permissible, the jury has made abundantly clear were not."

He added: "Because of all that, I have jeopardised my ability to protect my children."

The admission of guilt came after years of insisting he was innocent.

Judge Zagel said that Blagojevich's appeal to the court did not mitigate his crimes.

"Whatever good things you did for people as governor, and you did some, I am more concerned with the occasions when you wanted to use your powers when you wanted to do things that were only good for yourself," he said.

"When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired."

Bribes and extortion

Blagojevich was not immediately taken into custody, and is expected to appeal against the conviction.

He was also convicted of trying to extort campaign donations from business executives, and of soliciting bribes from racing officials.

One of his top fundraisers, Antoin Rezko, was sentenced last month to 10-and-a-half years in prison.

Prosecutors said: "Blagojevich engaged in extensive criminal conduct with and without Rezko, provided no co-operation, perjured himself for seven days on the witness stand, and has accepted no responsibility for his criminal conduct."

The defence argued that the former governor had already paid a high price for his actions through ridicule and financial ruin.

He was elected governor of Illinois in 2002 and served until 2009, when the state legislature threw him out of office following his arrest.

As governor, he was tasked under law with appointing someone to fill the Senate seat left vacant when Mr Obama won election to the White House.

In FBI wire taps, Blagojevich was heard describing the Senate appointment as a "golden" opportunity.

After the jury was unable to reach a verdict in the first trial, Blagojevich was found guilty in the second.

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