Rod Blagojevich, the ousted Illinois governor whose three-year battle against criminal charges became a national spectacle, was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday, one of the stiffest penalties imposed for corruption in a state with a history of crooked politics.
Among his 18 convictions is the explosive charge that he tried to leverage his power to appoint someone to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash or land a high-paying job.
Judge James Zagel gave Blagojevich some credit for taking responsibility for his actions – which the former governor did in an address to the court earlier in the day – but said that didn't mitigate his crimes. Zagel also said Blagojevich did good things for people as governor, but was more concerned about using his powers for himself.
"When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired," Zagel said.
As the judge announced the sentence, which includes a $20,000 fine, Blagojevich hunched forward and his face appeared frozen. Minutes later, his wife, Patti Blagojevich, stood up and fell into her husband's arms. He pulled back to brush tears off her cheek and then rubbed her shoulders.
On his way out of the courthouse, Blagojevich cited author Rudyard Kipling and said it was a time to be strong, to fight through adversity and be strong for his children. He said he and wife were heading home to speak to their daughters, and then left without answering any questions.
The twice-elected Democrat received by far the harshest sentence among the four Illinois governors sent to prison in the last four decades. He is the second in a row to go to prison; his Republican predecessor, George Ryan, currently is serving 6 1/2 years. The other two got three years or less.
Blagojevich, in a last plea for mercy, tried something he never had before: an apology. After years of insisting he was innocent, he told the judge he'd made "terrible mistakes" and acknowledged that he broke the law.
"I caused it all, I'm not blaming anybody," Blagojevich said. "I was the governor and I should have known better and I am just so incredibly sorry."