Blagojevich leaves Chicago for 14-year prison term

March 16, 2012 10:34:31 AM PDT
Rod Blagojevich landed in Colorado Thursday morning and took a leisurely drive around the area for about an hour in what seemed like a cat-and-mouse game with the media, who were waiting to watch him arrive to federal prison.

Rod Blagojevich left his Chicago home, which is up for sale, likely for the last time in the pre-dawn darkness.

After navigating a sea of cameras, the former governor was greeted by well-wishers, one offering him something for the plane. But it was clear Blagojevich had no interest in this day's headline.

"Saying goodbye is the hardest thing I've ever had to do," he said. "I'm leaving with a heavy heart, a clear conscience, but I have high, high hopes for the future."

With that Blagojevich, along with attorney Aaron Goldstein and limo driver John Wade, drove off in the same 2005 Chrysler 300 that he often used for his court hearings.

Morning rush traffic on the Kennedy was light, and at 6:45 a.m. the car pulled up at O'Hare's Terminal 3.

"You stay out of politics. It's a rough business," Blagojevich told other travelers.

Before going inside, Blagojevich was met by a man named Kurt who asked him to sign two copies of his 2009 book "The Governor".

"They mean more than I can say," he said. "I appreciate it, Kurt ... Oh, I better get on the plane, I don't think they're going to hold it for me."

Inside the American Airlines terminal, Blagojevich hammed it up with slack-jawed passengers, including a couple flying to Hawaii.

"Wow, no kidding. You got an extra ticket?" he quipped.

After being ushered into the security line reserved for military members, Blagojevich took off his sneakers and jacket and then went through the full body scanner before emerging on the other side to another sea of cameras.

Even an airport employee couldn't resist, throwing her arms around his neck.

"We're not giving up, not giving up," he said.

This moment for Blagojevich was both familiar and foreign. The man who once traveled in style, with security guards who would hold his hair brush, left the state he once governed with just the clothes on his back.

Blagojevich's flight left O'Hare International Airport for Denver just before 8 a.m. He traveled on a typical commuter flight, American Airlines Flight 3612 out of Gate H2. He went through a TSA screening like everyone else, though he did get moved to the front of the line.

Blagojevich will be prisoner number 40892424, the last three digits signify he is from the Northern District of Illinois. He is serving his sentence at Englewood prison in an unincorporated area 15 miles southwest of Denver. Blagojevich could share a cell with up to three other inmates. He will be given menial tasks and several tours throughout the day.

His defense team is filing an appeal, saying Blagojevich didn't intend to commit the crimes for which he is convicted. Attorneys also say the phone recordings that the defense wanted to be played in court were improperly blocked by the judge.

"I am proud as I leave and enter the next part of what is a dark and hard journey that I can take with me the sense of accomplishment and the real belief that the things that I did as governor and the things I did as congressman actually helped real ordinary people," Blagojevich said Wednesday during a public goodbye outside his home.

Blagojevich was convicted on corruption charges last June.