Like a magician whose tricks continue to flop, ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is pulling a new appeal from his legal hat.
Blagojevich, currently locked up in federal prison in Colorado, filed yet another petition Thursday challenging his conviction on federal corruption charges. The latest appeal is with the U.S. Supreme Court and goes straight at his 14-year sentence, a worse punishment than even Al Capone faced and longer than many violent offenders serve in Illinois.
"Our petition lays out a compelling case that the Supreme Court needs to settle the confusion among federal courts about the dividing line between campaign fundraising, something all elected officials are required to do (unless they are billionaires) and the federal crimes of extortion and bribery," said Blagojevich attorney Leonard Goodman in a statement provided to the ABC7 I-Team.
Two years ago, U.S. District Judge James Zagel threw out five of the 18 counts of public corruption against the former official, but his sentence remained the same
"Blagojevich's sentence was more than twice as long as that given any other official convicted of corruption," said Goodman. "Yet the court of appeals held that the district court was free to simply ignore the defense's plea for a more proportionate sentence."
The appeal maintains that Democrat Blagojevich didn't violate campaign laws as held by a previous Supreme Court case. The fallen-governor's new case claims that based on a previous decision, McCormick v. the United States, the fundraising activities were not illegal. That case found that a politician must make an explicit promise to a donor to take an official action in exchange for campaign money to be in violation of the law.
Thursday's petition to the Supreme Court is the second for Blagojevich. His first was denied by the high court in March of 2016. Blagojevich has apologized for what happened, but has never gone the full distance by admitting the crimes that have landed him behind bars.
As governor, the flashy, publicity-eager Blagojevich fancied himself as presidential timber. The one-time congressman never hid his yearning to return to Washington, D.C., as leader of the free world. Now it is his latest appeal headed to Washington, with his personal freedom on the line.
If this latest appeal also fails, or is not considered at all, Blagojevich's last real hope would be for President Donald Trump to OK the former governor's request for a commutation. Blagojevich had previously asked President Obama for an 11th hour commutation but Mr. Obama left office without granting the request.
Mr. Trump, who already shunned Blagojevich on the "Celebrity Apprentice" TV show, has given no indication he plans to show Blagojevich mercy this time.
It has been five years since the convicted ex-governor reported to the Federal Correctional Institution-Englewood in Littleton, Colo., about 14 miles outside of Denver. He is scheduled for release in May, 2024.
Statement from Patti Blagojevich:
"Next month will be 9 years since this whole thing started. This has been an absolutely grueling process. I am without my husband. My daughters are without their dad. And Rod is alone away from all of us.
If my husband were governor of Colorado, Florida, New York, Texas or Nevada, or many other states, these charges would never have been brought or he would have been acquitted because the law is different, and his actions would never have been considered criminal.
My sincere hope is that the supreme court will finally right this wrong and bring my husband home to his family where he belongs."
Statement from Len Goodman, Blagojevich attorney:
"Our petition lays out a compelling case that the Supreme Court needs to settle the confusion among federal courts about the dividing line between campaign fundraising, something all elected officials are required to do (unless they are billionaires) and the federal crimes of extortion and bribery. The prosecutors in this case took advantage of this confusion to obtain one of the most severe sentences ever handed out in a political corruption case to a governor who never sought a bribe or a kickback and never took a penny from his campaign fund for his personal use.
The petition also asks the Supreme Court to make clear that sentencing courts must always consider a defendant's showing that the sentence proposed by the Government is grossly disproportionate to those handed out to others found guilty of similar, or less egregious, offenses. Here, Blagojevich's sentence was more than twice as long as that given any other official convicted of corruption, yet the court of appeals held that the district court was free to simply ignore the defense's plea for a more proportionate sentence.
I also want to acknowledge the fantastic work of my co-counsel Kevin Russell in Washington DC, and Wells Dixon and Shayana Kadidal in NYC."