Guilty count could cost Blago 5 years in jail

August 18, 2010 (CHICAGO)

While the jury in the corruption case could not agree upon the 23 other counts in the trial, the one count they could agree on does come with prison time. How much prison time? And what will the judge actually order him to serve?

Count 24 - lying to a law enforcement officer - carries a punishment of up to five years in a federal prison. Former prosecutors doubt Judge Zagel will hand down a full sentence, but legal experts believe Rod Blagojevich will serve time for a conversation he had five years ago.

Just two years after he was elected to his first term and three years before Blagojevich was arrested, federal agents wanted to talk with the governor. The March 16th, 2005 meeting took place at Winston and Strawn, the Loop law firm that then represented Blagojevich.

"I agreed to that interview. They refused to allow me to have a court reporter in the room. I want the people of Illinois to know I did not lie to the FBI," said Blagojevich on Tuesday after the verdict.

But jurors unanimously agreed beyond a reasonable doubt that Blagojevich did lie.

Blagojevich told the FBI that he maintained a firewall between the governor's office and his campaign. FBI supervising agent Patrick Murphy testified the governor told him he "specifically does not track who contributes and doesn't want to know who or how much they're giving."

"That was certainly the stronger counts for the government. If you listen to the tapes, there were no acts that were necessary so I think that was certainly an easy one for the government," said Jeff Cramer, Kroll Associates, former assistant U.S. attorney.

Perhaps it was easy because there were witnesses and tapes that tied the governor's office and politics together. On Tuesday Blagojevich called his conviction on Count 24 "a nebulous charge."

"It is a charge that is punishable up to five years imprisonment. That's a serious charge," said Ron Safer, former assistant U.S. attorney.

It is a charge that Martha Stewart went to federal prison for.

While legal experts doubt the judge will give Blagojevich five years, Cramer and Safer say the former governor is likely to serve significant time.

"The government can bring in all the other evidence that was brought in at trial, whether it was a hung or they end up being not guilty, all that is relevant at the sentencing hearing," said Cramer.

"The guideline for lying to a law enforcement officer refers back to the underlying crime about which you are being investigated," said Safer.

In sentencing, a judge only needs a preponderance of evidence to consider other charges even when handing down a sentence on one count. Legal experts say the abuse of someone's position of power plays a big role in sentencing as well.

Blagojevich will not be sentenced on Count 24 until he is retried.

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