Extra month of freedom for Blagojevich before prison

December 13, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Blagojevich was to start serving his fourteen year prison term on February 16th but now has until March15th.

It has not been unusual in some of our more recent public corruption cases for a defendant to have roughly 90 days between sentencing and heading off to prison. Rod Blagojevich would still be within that window even after Tuesday's decision to delay by a month his surrender date.

After lowering the price on their Ravenswood Manor home, the Blagojevichs believe, their attorneys say, that a sale is getting closer. The ex-governor would like to be available to shepherd it through.

The judge on Tuesday approved and moved Blagojevich's surrender date to March 15th, though if a sale is closed sooner, that surrender date could be moved up.

"The reality is a one-month delay on a 14-year sentence doesn't matter... so you give that extra month courtesy," said former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Cramer, who is now with Kroll Investigations.

Where will Rod Blagojevich surrender himself to the Bureau of Prisons? His preferred choice is the low security prison at Englewood, Colorado, just outside Denver. There are two prison facilities there. One is a so-called prison camp - with no perimeter fencing. Because of the length of his sentence, Blagojevich would not qualify for that. He would go to the larger, fenced prison if the Bureau of Prisons decides to assign him there.

Why would Blagojevich ask to be located at a prison 1000 miles away from his home and family when there are two similar facilities that are closer?

"That was his personal choice," said Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky. "I don't know why he chose that place."

Might that mean that his family would be moving to be closer to him?

"The family has absolutely no plans to move to Colorado," said Sorosky.

Scott Fawell, former chief of staff to former governor George Ryan, served four years at a prison in Yankton, South Dakota.

He says Blagojevich's preference of a prison in Colorado - more than a thousand miles from home - will be a costly one.

"We tallied it up. It was about $21,000 for Andrea to come and see me on a regular basis," said Fawell.

Inmates in Englewood are assigned to either two person traditional cells or six man bunks. The prisoner handbook says inmates will line up to be counted at least six times a day. They will be assigned a job but will also have access to a library, music room and hobby shop. Visitors are allowed to briefly hug and kiss a prisoner. Hand holding is also permitted.

"I went through this with my family. I reported on November 7, 2003," said Fawell. "So, obviously, it would have been easy to stay for the holidays and Christmas - I finally just said, you know what guys, I'm going, because you don't get back, you don't finish this ordeal until you start it."

Blagojevich's attorneys also asked that the ex-governor be included in a prison residential drug abuse program. Successfully completing that can shave as much as a year off a sentence, but to qualify Blagojevich would have to show a documented pattern of substance abuse in the 12 months before his arrest three years ago.

"It wasn't mentioned during the first trial, it wasn't mentioned during the the second trial at all, even when he testified, so I think that you have look at that a little skeptically," said Cramer.

Usually the bureau of prisons makes its decision on where to place a new inmate within a couple weeks of sentencing. It considers a defendant's request, and a judge's recommendation, but it's not at all bound by them. There are a lot of factors that determine placement - not the least of which is where beds are available.

The low security facility in Englewood, Colorado currently has 979 inmates. One of them happens to be one-time Enron president Jeffrey Skilling.

Blagojevich was found guilty on 18 counts of corruption, including scheming to sell a U.S. Senate seat, in two separate trials. He was sentenced by Judge James Zagel on December 7.

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