Robert Blagojevich calls brother's sentence 'wrong'

December 8, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich talked on the phone for about a half hour Thursday morning with his older brother Robert who lives in Nashville. Robert was his brother's last campaign finance director and wound up getting criminally charged with the ex-governor. The government dropped the case against Robert.

Robert Blagojevich told ABC7 that he thinks the sentence passed down Wednesday is unduly harsh.

"My reaction to that 14 years, now as I've had time to reflect on it, is draconian, it's extremely severe, and just wrong. And I'm not going to pretend to make insightful comments about why it got there," said Robert Blagojevich. "But it's just wrong, it's not fair and it's not just in my opinion."

Robert Blagojevich says he has cried only three times in his adult life: once when his mother died, then when his father died, and Thursday morning, when he talked to his brother from his home in Tennessee.

"He is not a danger, he is not a threat to anyone, and I think it's just extremely severe to now put him into a higher level of security that he definitely does not deserve," said Robert Blagojevich.

Robert says he spoke to his brother by phone for about a half hour Thursday, the day after Rod apologized in court to his brother for the pain he had caused.

Robert says an apology was not necessary, and he got emotional when he talked about how he feels about his younger brother.

"When you've got someone in your family who is destined to go to prison, it affects a lot of lives, it just doesn't affect him, it affects a lot of people who love and care for him," said Robert Blagojevich.

Robert Blagojevich says the his brother is fully aware of the challenges he faces.

"I want to believe that he's gonna be fully prepared to confront that new challenge - that new chapter of his life, but I also believe that he's got a strong spirit, I believe that he is going to prevail through this, and when he finishes this experience, he is going to be stronger and better than when he went in," said Robert Blagojevich.

Robert offered to testify in front of the House Ethics Committee investigating allegations that supporters of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. tried to get then-governor Rod Blagojevich to appoint Jackson to a U.S. Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash.

Thursday night, Jackson reacted to the federal investigation and the Blagojevich sentence.

"A sad day for Illinois - a very sad day for his wife and for his family... I am very confident that I will be vindicated by the House process," said Jackson.

Robert Blagojevich says that his greatest concern is for Rod's daughters, wife, and their life after Rod goes to prison. Robert said they will get the support they need from family both in Chicago and in Nashville, Tennessee.

Why did Blagojevich get a harsher sentence than Ryan?

One of the things the Blagojevich defense argued over the last two days was that the ex-governor never took any money and that his predecessor clearly did, so their plea was that Blagojevich should get less than the six-and-a-half years that George Ryan received. Blagojevich was sentenced to more than double what Ryan got.

There are many chapters to that argument, but it does highlight what many perceive to be the uneven sentencing of criminal defendants.

"In Illinois, reckless homicide carries a maximum term of 14 years - that's a dead body," said Sam Adam Jr., former Blagojevich attorney.

Adam wonders, how does Blagojevich get 14 years when some violent criminals get less? How is that fair?

The 14-year prison sentence given to Rod Blagojevich is the harshest ever for political corruption in the Northern District of Illinois. Some people are questioning whether the punishment maybe too severe when compared to sentences for violent crime.

"I don't know what fair is. Is it harsh? It's a very severe sentence," said Prof Richard Kling, Kent College of Law.

Kling has tried violent crime cases in both state court and federal court where there are different sentencing systems. The federal system establishes detailed guidelines, a point system. The judges work within that but they have discretion, and the high number in Blagojevich is seen as an anti-public corruption message.

"That may be a fair deterrence value given the nature of the case. Can you compare it to a 23- year-old who drives drunk and kills somebody? You can't. You can't compare cases," said Kling.

"There are so many variables in each individual case, it's hard to predict what one defendant will get as compare to what another will get in a different setting," said Brad Bolerjack, Reed Smith Law Firm.

Consider, for example, Outfit hitman Nick Calabrese, involved in at least 14 murders. He was sentenced to 12 years by the same judge who sentenced the former governor. Calabrese, however, was instrumental in helping the government in Operation Family Secrets.

In sentencing the ex-governor Wednesday, Judge James Zagel was actually below federal guidelines, but the number he chose is now widely seen as a message.

"At the end of the day what the court and public have to take into account is that these were a series of crimes and there's going to be temptations and if someone takes advantage of that, there'll be a serious price to pay," said Bolerjack.

Each case is different. There are many variables. It's often an apples and oranges debate. What's fair and just in the U.S. Attorney's Office is quite different than in the Blagojevich household, and there are certainly wide variations in the court of public opinion.

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