Ex-'Celebrity Apprentice' Contestant Rod Blagojevich's Attorneys Ask Judge to Show Mercy in Sentencing Hearing
After all his claims of innocence and facing years in prison, Rod Blagojevich let his lawyers make an admission that he has so far avoided making -- that he was, in fact, guilty of public corruption.
The former Illinois governor will get a chance to do the same Wednesday, when he is scheduled to address the judge who will decide his fate.
Judge James Zagel signaled on Tuesday, however, that he may be prepared to impose a stiff prison sentence, saying he thinks Blagojevich lied when he told jurors that he never tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Obama's vacated Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.
Throughout the first day of his two-day sentencing hearing, the impeached executive-turned-reality TV star known for his jocular personality was somber and ill at ease, starting down at the floor. His wife sobbed when a letter from their daughter begged Zagel not to send him to prison.
The hearing was a stark contrast to the circus atmosphere around Blagojevich's trial on multiple counts of corruption.
The conciliatory tone came as something of a surprise -- just days after defense filings that, as many times before, stridently declared Blagojevich's innocence and said that he had been duped by aides but never intended to cross any lines into illegality.
Attorney Sheldon Sorosky told Zagel that it was illegal for Blagojevich to ask for a job for himself in exchange for his naming of the replacement.
"There's no doubt this is a crime to do this in relation to the Senate seat, we accept that," he said. "I am just saying that does not call for a 15- to 20-year jail" term as prosecutors have requested.
At the hearing, Blagojevich ringed his hands and pulled nervously at his fingers -- pausing occasionally to sip on a plastic bottle of Cherry Coke.
As defense attorney Aaron Goldstein began reading a letter to the judge from his older daughter, 15-year-old Amy, the former governor suddenly seemed to fight to maintain his composure, fidgeting with a pen, biting on his lip. An attorney turned to gently pat his shoulder.
Zagel also seemed more engaged in what Goldstein was saying as he described Blagojevich -- the father. Blagojevich's wife Patti also began sobbing -- tears streaming down her cheeks, then dabbing her reddened face with a tissue.
In comments that could signal a lengthy prison sentence, Zagel made it clear that he did not believe a suggestion made by defense attorneys that Blagojevich was duped by aides and advisers.
A sentence is expected Wednesday.
After sentencing, Zagel will likely give Blagojevich weeks before he must report to prison. Once there, the man heard scoffing on FBI wiretaps about earning a low six-figure salary would have to take a prison job -- possibly scrubbing toilets -- at just 12 cents an hour.
Blagojevich was ridiculed for his spring 2010 appearance on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice, where he was seen struggling to use a cell phone. He was "fired" by host Donald Trump in the fourth episode.
Wife Patti also competed on an NBC reality show: I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!
They have said they took part in the shows to provide for their children.